Southeastern Penn. Transp. v. Penn. Pub. Util., Civil Action No. 95-4500.

Citation210 F.Supp.2d 689
Decision Date12 July 2002
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 95-4500.,Civil Action No. 01-5570.
PartiesSOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, Plaintiff, v. The PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION, Defendant. National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Plaintiff, v. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Glen Thomas, Chairman, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Robert K. Bloom, Vice Chairman, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Aaron Wilson, Jr., Commissioner, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Terrence J. Fitzpatrick, Commissioner, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
MEMORANDUM

DuBOIS, District Judge.

                TABLE OF CONTENTS
                  I. BACKGROUND ......................................................................... 695
                     A. THE STATUTORY EXEMPTION AND PUC'S COST-ASSESSMENT
                         AUTHORITY ...................................................................... 695
                     B. CASSATT AVENUE BRIDGE PROCEEDINGS ............................................... 696
                     C. INITIAL SEPTA PROCEEDINGS ....................................................... 697
                     D. THE SEPTA CONSENT DECREE ........................................................ 698
                     E. PUC'S EFFORTS TO VACATE THE CONSENT DECREE ...................................... 699
                     F. LLOYD STREET BRIDGE PROCEEDINGS ................................................. 700
                     G. CURRENT PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THIS COURT ........................................... 702
                 II. NORFOLK SOUTHERN'S MOTIONS TO INTERVENE ............................................ 703
                     A. INTERVENTION AS OF RIGHT ........................................................ 703
                     B. PERMISSIVE INTERVENTION ......................................................... 705
                III. SEPTA'S MOTION TO ENFORCE THE CONSENT DECREE ....................................... 706
                     A. JURISDICTIONAL ISSUES: YOUNGER AND ROOKER-FELDMAN ............................... 706
                     B. CONFLICTING FEDERAL AND STATE COURT JUDGMENTS ................................... 707
                        1. Res Judicata and Enforcement of the Consent Decree ........................... 707
                        2. Analysis of PUC's Counter Arguments .......................................... 710
                           a. Waiver of res judicata defense ............................................ 710
                           b. SEPTA's permissible avoidance of state court litigation ................... 711
                           c. Preservation of judgments under the All Writs Act ......................... 712
                     C. RELIEF — SEPTA .................................................................. 714
                 IV. PUC'S MOTIONS TO DISMISS AMTRAK'S COMPLAINT ........................................ 715
                     A. ELEVENTH AMENDMENT SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY ........................................... 715
                     B. EFFECT OF THE COMMONWEALTH COURT'S JUDGMENTS .................................... 716
                     C. FAILURE TO JOIN NECESSARY PARTIES ............................................... 717
                     D. DECLARATORY JUDGMENT ACT REQUIREMENTS ........................................... 718
                     E. ABSTENTION ...................................................................... 719
                     F. INJUNCTIVE RELIEF AGAINST PUC COMMISSIONER AARON
                          WILSON, JR .................................................................... 721
                     G. DISPOSITION OF PUC MOTIONS ...................................................... 721
                  V. AMTRAK'S MOTIONS FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE
                      RELIEF ............................................................................ 721
                     A. LIKELIHOOD OF SUCCESS ON THE MERITS ............................................. 723
                     B. IRREPARABLE HARM TO AMTRAK ...................................................... 725
                     C. HARM TO PUC ..................................................................... 727
                     D. PUBLIC INTEREST ................................................................. 727
                     E. RELIEF — AMTRAK ................................................................. 728
                 VI. CONCLUSION ......................................................................... 728
                

These related cases present important questions of federalism concerning state courts' treatment of the final judgments of federal courts. Specifically, the cases raise the issue of how a litigant who has obtained a final federal judgment in its favor can enforce that judgment when a final order of a state court directly contradicts the earlier final federal order.

The underlying issue is an oft-litigated question: whether PUC may allocate to SEPTA and Amtrak a share of the cost of maintaining and constructing highway bridges over railroad rights of way in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania notwithstanding a federal statute exempting SEPTA and Amtrak from the payment of a "tax, fee, head charge, or other charge" imposed by a local taxing authority.1 In a series of decisions issued during the past fifteen years, judges of this Court have uniformly decided that federal statutory law exempts Amtrak and SEPTA from paying such costs. The Third Circuit has, in all instances, affirmed these decisions.

Despite this long line of decisions, Pennsylvania state courts have issued opinions directly contradicting the federal courts' rulings. The precise question now presented is whether Amtrak and SEPTA may continue to enforce the federal court judgments in their favor in the face of a state court's conflicting interpretation of federal statutory law. As this Court now holds, the answer to that question is undeniably "yes."

In reaching this decision, the Court addresses seven pending motions. In the SEPTA case, No. 95-4500, there are two pending motions: Motion of SEPTA to Enforce the Consent Decree and Supporting Memorandum of Law (Doc. Nos. 20 and 21, filed Oct. 23, 2001); and Norfolk Southern's Motion to Intervene as Intervenor/Defendant (Doc. No. 24, filed Dec. 4, 2001).

In the Amtrak case, No. 01-5570, there are five pending motions: Motion of the PUC to Dismiss the Verified Complaint in Equity filed by Amtrak (Doc. No. 6, filed Dec. 18, 2001); Motion of Commissioner Aaron Wilson, Jr., to Dismiss the Verified Complaint in Equity filed by Amtrak (Doc. No. 7, filed Dec. 18, 2001)2; Norfolk Southern's Motion to Intervene as Intervenor/Defendant and Supporting Memorandum of Law (Doc. Nos. 8 and 9, filed Dec. 21, 2001)3; Motion of Amtrak for Preliminary and Other Injunctive Relief (Doc. No. 12, filed Jan. 2, 2002); and Amtrak's Renewed Motion for Declaratory Judgment and for Preliminary and Permanent Injunction (Doc. No. 22, filed May 8, 2002).4

For the reasons stated in this Memorandum, the Court will: (1) deny Norfolk Southern's Motions to Intervene; (2) grant SEPTA's Motion to Enforce the Consent Decree; (3) deny PUC's Motions to Dismiss; and (4) grant Amtrak's Motions for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief to the extent Amtrak seeks preliminary injunctive relief.

I. BACKGROUND

Since 1986, the parties now before the Court have litigated a number of cases,5 all of which have involved the allocation of costs for the maintenance and construction of highway bridges over railroad rights of way throughout Pennsylvania.6 Because the history of this litigation is essential to disposition of the pending motions, the Court now sets forth that history in some detail.

A. THE STATUTORY EXEMPTION AND PUC'S COST-ASSESSMENT AUTHORITY

In 1982, Congress enacted a statute aimed at protecting Amtrak, a federally owned and funded entity, from having to finance railway-related improvements which would otherwise be financed by state and local governments and other entities.7 That statute, as amended, provides, in relevant part:

Amtrak, a rail carrier subsidiary of Amtrak, and any passenger or other customer of Amtrak or such subsidiary, are exempt from a tax, fee, head charge, or other charge, imposed or levied by a State, political subdivision, or local taxing authority on Amtrak, a rail carrier subsidiary of Amtrak, or on persons traveling in intercity rail passenger transportation or on mail or express transportation provided by Amtrak or such a subsidiary, or on the carriage of such persons, mail, or express, or on the sale of any such transportation, or on the gross receipts derived therefrom.

49 U.S.C. § 24301(l)(1) ("statutory exemption").8 In 1988, Congress enacted further legislation extending the exemption to commuter authorities like SEPTA, providing that they are exempt "from paying a tax or fee to the same extent Amtrak is exempt." 49 U.S.C. § 24301(f). Under this federal statutory scheme, both Amtrak and SEPTA are therefore "exempt from a tax, fee, head charge, or other charge, imposed or levied by a State, political subdivision, or local taxing authority." 49 U.S.C. § 24301(l)(1).

In Pennsylvania, PUC is vested with the authority to assess costs for maintaining highway bridges, and, inter alia, to impose those costs on railroads. See Amtrak I, 665 F.Supp. at 403 (detailing PUC's statutory authority to assess costs for maintaining highway bridges...

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