Illig v. Union Electric Co.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Citation652 F.3d 971
Docket NumberNo. 10–3488.,10–3488.
PartiesSarah ILLIG; Gale Illig, for Themselves and as Representatives of a Class of Similarly Situated Persons, Appellants,v.UNION ELECTRIC COMPANY, Appellee.
Decision Date31 August 2011

652 F.3d 971

Sarah ILLIG; Gale Illig, for Themselves and as Representatives of a Class of Similarly Situated Persons, Appellants,

No. 10–3488.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

Submitted: June 15, 2011.Filed: Aug. 31, 2011.

[652 F.3d 973]

Mark F. “Thor” Hearne, II, argued, Meghan S. Largent, Lindsay S.C. Brinton, Clayton, MO, for appellants.Jeffrey Thomas McPherson, argued, James J. Virtel, on the brief, St. Louis, MO, for appellee.Before MURPHY and SMITH, Circuit Judges, and READE,1 District Judge.SMITH, Circuit Judge.

Sarah and Gale Illig (collectively, “Illig”), on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, brought suit against Union Electric Company (“Union”) in Missouri state court, alleging claims of inverse condemnation and trespass under Missouri law. After Union removed the case to federal district court,2 the court granted Union's motion to dismiss, concluding that the applicable statutes of limitations had expired on both of Illig's claims. Illig challenges this ruling on appeal. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. Background
A. Missouri Pacific's Right–of–Way on Illig's Property

The present dispute stems from the conversion of a railroad line on Illig's property to a public trail, pursuant to the National Trails System Act of 1968 (“Trails Act”),3 16 U.S.C. § 1241, et seq.

[652 F.3d 974]

This conversion took place between 1991 and 1994. Illig has owned certain lots of land in St. Louis County, in fee simple absolute, since 1984. The land had been encumbered prior to Illig's ownership. Missouri Pacific Railroad Company (“Missouri Pacific”) operated a 6.2–mile long railroad line—known as the Carondelet Branch—through Illig's land, pursuant to an easement obtained as early as 1872. It is undisputed that Missouri Pacific's easement was “for railroad purposes.” In 1972, Missouri Pacific executed a Wire License Agreement with Union, allowing Union to install electrical transmission poles, lines, and other appurtenances along the railroad line.

In February 1992, Missouri Pacific sought to abandon and discontinue its railroad operations over the Carondelet Branch, including the 6.2–mile stretch of railroad line on Illig's land. Pursuant to the Trails Act, Missouri Pacific filed a notice of exemption with the STB,4 seeking permission to do so. In its notice, Missouri Pacific “certifie[d] that no local traffic has moved over the line for at least two years” and that “[o]verhead traffic previously moved over the line has been rerouted successfully.” Missouri Pacific also certified that it had published a notice of its abandonment and its notice of exemption on January 29, 1992, “in [the] Watchman–Advocate in Clayton, Missouri, [a] newspaper in general circulation in St. Louis, County, Missouri[,] where the rail line is located.”

Around this same time, Gateway Trailnet (“Trailnet”), a private non-profit organization devoted to creating and operating public trails, asked the STB to issue a NITU, which would allow Trailnet to acquire Missouri Pacific's easement and convert the railroad corridor to a public trail. On March 2, 1992, Missouri Pacific informed

[652 F.3d 975]

the STB of its willingness to negotiate with Trailnet for interim trail use.

On March 25, 1992, the STB issued a NITU, permitting Missouri Pacific and Trailnet to enter into negotiations. The NITU further stated:

The parties may negotiate an agreement during the 180–day period prescribed below. If no agreement is reached within 180 days, [Missouri Pacific] may fully abandon the line.

* * *

... [Missouri Pacific] may discontinue service, cancel tariffs for the line on not less than 10 days' notice to the Commission, and salvage track and related materials consistent with interim trail use/rail banking after the effective date of this decision and notice....

* * *

... If an agreement for interim trail use/rail banking is reached by the 180th day after service of this decision and notice, interim trail use may be implemented. If no agreement is reached by the 180th day, [Missouri Pacific] may fully abandon the line subject to the condition set forth above.

On December 30, 1992, in a Donation, Purchase, and Sale Agreement (“Trail Use Agreement”), Missouri Pacific agreed to sell its right-of-way over Illig's property to Trailnet. That same day, Missouri Pacific signed a quitclaim deed, conveying its interests to Trailnet. Also on that day, Missouri Pacific assigned to Trailnet several agreements that it had previously entered into with licensees, including Union. Missouri Pacific recorded the deed with the St. Louis County Recorder of Deeds office on January 6, 1993.

On December 28, 1998, Illig sued the United States in the United States Court of Federal Claims, alleging that the conversion of Missouri Pacific's railroad line to a recreational trail amounted to a taking under the Fifth Amendment. Ultimately, in 2005, the court dismissed Illig's claim as untimely under the applicable six-year federal statute of limitations. See Illig v. United States, 67 Fed.Cl. 47, 50 (2005).

B. Instant Litigation

On December 23, 2002, while Illig's claim was pending in the Court of Federal Claims, Illig initiated the instant action against Union in Missouri state court. Union removed the case to the federal district court, which stayed the case pending the final outcome of Illig v. United States. After that case was resolved, Illig filed an amended complaint in the district court, asserting causes of action for inverse condemnation and trespass under Missouri law. Illig alleged that Union's use of and presence on Illig's property exceeded the scope of the easements “created by the Trails Act.” Further, Illig alleged that Trailnet did not own an interest in Illig's land that would allow it to sell Union a right to use Illig's land for electrical transmission lines. Illig also alleged that Union never obtained an easement or license from Illig or any previous landowner. As a result, Illig alleged that “Plaintiffs' property has been damaged since January 6, 1993, by the unauthorized and unlawful presence of high-voltage electrical transmission lines and other structures placed on and across the Plaintiffs' land by [Union].”

Union subsequently moved to dismiss the complaint on several grounds, arguing, inter alia, that federal law preempted Illig's inverse condemnation and trespass claims and that the applicable statutes of limitations barred the claims. The district court granted Union's motion to dismiss, concluding that although federal law did not preempt the claims, they were time-barred. The court determined that Illig's claims accrued on March 25, 1992, when the STB issued the NITU. The court dismissed

[652 F.3d 976]

the claims as time-barred because Illig failed to commence the action within the ten-and five-year limitations periods, respectively, for her inverse condemnation and trespass claims.
II. Discussion

Illig argues that the district court erroneously concluded that the statute of limitations had expired on her claims for inverse condemnation and trespass. Specifically, she contends that the court applied the proper statutes of limitations but incorrectly determined when her claims accrued. First, Illig maintains that she could not have brought her claims while Union was using the land under the license that Missouri Pacific had granted it. Thus, she could not have ascertained her damages for this claim before January 6, 1993, when Missouri Pacific “first publically alienated its interest” in the land via the quitclaim deed. Prior to that date, Illig “had no knowledge or notice [that] the NITU had issued and affected [her] land,” and even if she did, “the NITU's effect upon [Union's] license [from Missouri Pacific] was still unknown and unknowable.” Second, Illig contends that the district court did not consider her continuing-trespass allegation that would have allowed her to recover damages for Union's ongoing trespasses in the five years preceding her filing of the instant suit. Finally, Illig asserts that the district court confused the property interest taken from Illig under the Trails Act—the right-of-way easement for the rail/trail corridor—with Union's use of the land under the license. She argues that Union's license was a distinct property interest that was “taken” at a different time than the easement. Accordingly, the fact that a federal taking occurred upon issuance of the NITU has no effect on when Missouri Pacific's license to Union terminated. Again, she maintains that the license did not terminate until the quitclaim deed was recorded on January 6, 1993.

“We review de novo the district court's dismissal of an action for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)” and “accept the factual allegations of the complaint as true.” O'Neil v. Simplicity, Inc., 574 F.3d 501, 503 (8th Cir.2009). In addressing a motion to dismiss, “[t]he court may...

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