Tampa Phosphate R. Co. v. Seaboard Coast Line R. Co.

Decision Date24 February 1970
Docket NumberNo. 26424.,26424.
Citation418 F.2d 387
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit


James B. McDonough, Jr., Macfarlane, Ferguson, Allison & Kelly, David C. G. Kerr, Tampa, Fla., for appellant.

George C. Winn, Fowler, White, Collins, Gillen, Humkey & Trenam, James E. Thompson, William A. Gillen, Tampa, Fla., for appellee.

Jerome Nelson, Atty., I. C. C., John H. D. Wigger, Atty., Washington, D. C., for amicus curiae the United States and I. C. C.

Before JOHN R. BROWN, Chief Judge, and GEWIN and GOLDBERG, Circuit Judges.

Certiorari Denied February 24, 1970. See 90 S.Ct. 907.

GOLDBERG, Circuit Judge.

This case involves the right of a company to condemn lands in furtherance of its railroading ambitions after it has been denied a certificate of public convenience and necessity by the Interstate Commerce Commission. We must decide whether a federal district court has the power under 49 U.S.C.A. § 1(20)1 to issue an injunction against condemnation proceedings in state courts that are said to violate § 1(18) of the Interstate Commerce Act.2 We also find it necessary to consider what defenses, if any, may be asserted in opposition to the alleged violation.

The history of this case begins in July of 1965 when Tampa Phosphate Railroad Company (Tampa), a corporation not yet operating as a railroad, filed an application with the Interstate Commerce Commission (Commission) questing for authority to construct a railroad under Section 1(18)-1(22) of the Interstate Commerce Act. See 49 U.S.C.A. § 1(18)-1(22). In its application Tampa declared that the proposed railroad was intended primarily to transport phosphate rock and all products thereof to Port Sutton in Hillsborough County, Florida, from a point some thirty miles away in Polk County, Florida. Tampa prayed for the grant of a certificate authorizing construction of this railroad, and in the alternative for dismissal of its application as beyond the Commission's jurisdiction. Tampa contended in support of this alternative that (a) its proposed railroad would operate only in intrastate commerce, and (b) that the line would constitute a spur or industrial track within the exemption of 49 U.S.C.A. § 1(22).3

After hearings, the Interstate Commerce Commission examiner recommended denial of the application. He held that the Commission did have jurisdiction because the proposed railroad would operate in interstate commerce, and he found that the new trackage would not constitute a spur or industrial track within the meaning of § 1(22). He then denied Tampa's application, ruling that construction and operation had not been shown to be required by the present and future public convenience and necessity.

Subsequent to the completion of the administrative hearing, the Interstate Commerce Commission found in a decision dated August 7, 1967, that "the findings and conclusions of the hearing examiner on matters of fact and law considered and disposed of in his report and recommended order are in all material respects proper and correct." The order of the examiner denying Tampa's application was thereupon affirmed and adopted by the Commission. No appeal was taken from this order.

Following the denial of its application, Tampa directed its full energies toward a series of condemnation suits then in progress in the state courts of Florida. The first and second of these suits had begun on October 13, 1965, in the Circuit Court of Hillsborough County, Florida, while Tampa's application was still pending before the Commission. The third suit began a short time later in the Circuit Court of Polk County, Florida. In all proceedings Tampa sought easements or rights-of-way for its proposed railroad across existing trackage of the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Company (Seaboard). As authority for these easements, Tampa relied upon certain Florida eminent domain statutes permitting one railroad to cross the tracks of another railroad. See F.S.A. §§ 73.012, 73.021, 73.151, 360.01, 361.01. Seaboard opposed Tampa's petition in each state court and sought dismissal of the actions on the grounds, inter alia, that the proposed construction would be in interstate commerce and that the Commission had denied Tampa the requisite certificate. The Circuit Court of Polk County, apparently reserving its ruling on Seaboard's motion to dismiss, scheduled the matter for trial on December 18, 1967.

Meanwhile, Seaboard had initiated this suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Seaboard there sought an injunction to prevent Tampa from continuing condemnation proceedings against Seaboard's property, and further sought to enjoin Tampa from constructing or operating any railroad facilities without first procuring a certificate from the Commission. Tampa's actions were alleged to be in violation of § 1(18) of the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C.A. § 1(18), and an injunction was sought under § 1(20) of the Act, 49 U.S.C.A. § 1(20), to prevent further violations.

Tampa responded to Seaboard's complaint with an answer and with a motion to dismiss. Argument on the motion to dismiss was held on December 12, 1967, and on December 14, 1967, the district court denied Tampa's motion to dismiss and granted a preliminary injunction against any condemnation of Seaboard's property or construction thereon until a certificate of convenience and necessity was procured from the Commission. In its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the court found that it had jurisdiction under 28 U.S. C.A. § 89(b), 28 U.S.C.A. § 1337, and 49 U.S.C.A. § 1(18)-1(20). It also found that Seaboard was a proper party in interest within the meaning of 49 U.S.C.A. § 1(20). The court overruled Seaboard's motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that the order of the Interstate Commerce Commission was not res judicata on the intrastate or interstate character of the proposed railroad. It then reserved this issue of interstate commerce for independent investigation at a later date. The court also determined that the provisions of 28 U.S.C.A. § 2283 "are not applicable or controlling in this case."

Further argument was heard on the case on March 6, 1968, and on April 22, 1968, the court overruled Tampa's motion to dissolve and vacate the preliminary injunction. Again the court reserved ruling on the interstate or intrastate character of the proposed railroad. Tampa appeals to this court from the denial of its motion to vacate. 28 U.S. C.A. § 1292(a) (1).

We hold that the district court was within its authority in refusing to dissolve the preliminary injunction. We base our decision largely on the view that neither 28 U.S.C.A. § 2283 nor principles of comity present any bar to the issuance of the district court's injunction. We also find on the record before us that Seaboard "has raised questions going to the merits so serious, substantial, difficult and doubtful, as to make them a fair ground for litigation and thus for more deliberate investigation." Hamilton Watch Co. v. Benrus Watch Co., 2 Cir. 1953, 206 F.2d 738, 742; Railroad Yardmasters of America v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co., 3 Cir. 1955, 224 F.2d 226, 229. No more definitive examination of the merits is required on appeal from a refusal to vacate a preliminary injunction. See Railroad Yardmasters of America v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co., supra. "* * * Ordinarily the decree of a District Court granting or denying a preliminary injunction will not be disturbed on appeal." Myers v. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., 1938, 303 U.S. 41, 52, 58 S.Ct. 459, 464, 82 L.Ed. 638. No extraordinary reasons for departure from such rule are here presented.


We deal first with Tampa's contention that the antiinjunction statute, 28 U.S. C.A. § 2283, bars injunctive process against the further prosecution of condemnation suits in the state courts of Florida. The statute provides:

"A court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments."

We note at the outset that § 2283 applies irrespective of whether the federal injunction is directed to the parties or to the state courts. Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Elec. Co., 1940, 309 U.S. 4, 9, 60 S.Ct. 215, 84 L.Ed. 537. The statute also applies when, as here, the state proceedings are already in progress. Hill v. Martin, 1935, 296 U.S. 393, 403, 56 S.Ct. 278, 80 L.Ed. 293. Under these circumstances the injunction is contrary to the statute unless it falls within one of the exceptions authorized by the statute itself.

The district court found § 2283 inapplicable to the instant case apparently because the injunction could issue "in aid of its jurisdiction."4 Argument before the trial court indicates that this exception was invoked on the premise that an injunction against state proceedings is proper when the federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter of the action. Bowles v. Willingham, 1944, 321 U.S. 503, 64 S.Ct. 641, 88 L.Ed. 892; Capital Service v. N.L.R.B., 1954, 347 U.S. 501, 74 S.Ct. 699, 98 L.Ed. 887. Without assaying the merit of this rationale as applied to the instant case, cf. T. Smith & Son, Inc. v. Williams, 5 Cir. 1960, 275 F.2d 397, we hold that the preliminary injunction could issue under the "expressly authorized" exception to § 2283.

Section 2283 permits the issuance of a federal injunction against state court proceedings when "expressly authorized by Act of Congress." It is well established that an injunctive provision "need not expressly refer to § 2283" in order to come within this exception. Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America v. Richman Brothers Co., 1955, 348 U.S. 511, 516, ...

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