Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Supreme Court’

Appeals Court Strikes down STB On-time Standards

July 17, 2017

Another federal court has struck a blow at the efforts of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to establish on-time standards for Amtrak trains.

The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the STB standards to be unconstitutional, saying that the STB had “exceeded its authority” in creating the standards.

The appeal court ruling came in the wake of a similar U.S. Supreme Court ruling that development of on-time metrics by the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak as directed by Section 207 of 2008’s Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act was unconstitutional.

In the Eighth Circuit ruling, Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith acknowledged that the absence of such on-time standards would make it impossible for the STB to investigate or adjudicate disputes brought by Amtrak against host railroads in the event that punctuality fell below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters.

However, the court in essence decided that the STB’s inability to measure on time performance is not a problem for the judiciary to solve.

There are two cases pending before the STB in which Amtrak alleges that host railroads needlessly delayed Amtrak trains.

One case involve the handling by Canadian National of the Saluki and Illini between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, while the other regards Norfolk Southern’s handling of the Capitol Limited west of Pittsburgh.

In both cases, Amtrak contends that dispatching decisions made by the host railroads are delaying its trains.

The STB had contended that it had the legal right to establish on-time standards “by virtue of its authority to adjudicate complaints brought by Amtrak. Any other result would gut the remedial scheme, a result Congress clearly did not intend.”

Supporting the STB’s position were 13 intervenors, including the National Association of Railroad Passengers and its state affiliates along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Challenging the STB were Union Pacific, CSX, CN and the Association of American Railroads.

They argued that the “gap-filling rationale does not allow one agency to assume the authority expressly delegated to another.”

The court found that the only place in federal law where the 80 percent standard was spelled out was in section 207, which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional because Amtrak had a hand in developing it.

Although the court let stand Congress’ setting a statutory right of passenger train “priority” over freight trains, the practical effect of the court decision is that Amtrak has no way to challenge a host railroad’s systematic denial of that right.

Instead, the only motivation for railroads to keep Amtrak trains on time are the proprietary and confidential incentive contracts Amtrak has been able to negotiate with its host railroads pertaining to on-time handling.

The only action Amtrak can take against a host railroad would be to refuse to make incentive payments due to non-performance under the terms of its operating contracts with a host railroad.

The court rulings do suggest that Congress could give the FRA a mandate to establish on-time standards provided that Amtrak was not a participant in the writing of those standards.

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Court Sides With Freight Railroads in Amtrak Dispute

March 25, 2017

In the end Amtrak’s freight railroads prevailed in court.

A federal judge ruled in their favor by ruling that Section 207 of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act is unconstitutional and thus the metrics and standards that the Federal Railroad Administration had issued in 2011 in terms of evaluating on-time performance have now been struck down.

The ruling was made by Judge James E. Boasberg based on the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution against the taking of life, libery or property without due process of law.

The Association of American Railroads had filed suit challenging the legality of Section 207.

Boasberg’s ruling was made after the case had been remanded court by the U.S. Supreme Court with instructions as to how to proceed in the case.

Therefore, observers say, it is unlikely that the U.S. Department of Transportation will appeal the ruling.

In his ruling, the judge relied on a precedent set in an 1886 Supreme Court ruling involving Southern Pacific that found that rights granted to people by the Constitution are also granted to corporations.

The court ruled that the regulatory authority of the federal government rests only with individuals appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which is also known as the appointments clause.

The AAR had challenged Section 207, in part, because it allowed Amtrak to have some regulatory power even it is a part of the industry that is being regulated.

In July 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals found that Amtrak is a private company that may not be granted regulatory powers, overturning a May 2012 ruling by the District Court that Amtrak is a governmental entity.

A unanimous Supreme Court in March 2015 ruled that for the purposes of the constitutional clauses in question, Amtrak is a part of the government.

In sending the case back to the district court, the Supreme Court instructed it to rule further on the questions of due process and appointments.

The latest court ruling means that although Congress may lawfully create companies that act commercially within an industry and may also create regulatory bodies, it cannot create entities that do both at the same time.

AAR had asserted that Section 207 allowed Amtrak to do that.

Court Sides With AAR in On-Time Rules Dispute

May 3, 2016

A federal appeals court ruled last week that a 2008 law unconstitutionally gave Amtrak regulatory power over its contract railroads.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with the Association of American Railroads in saying that the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 gave Amtrak too much power when it comes to writing regulations pertaining to on-time performance metrics.

It was the second time that the appeals court has ruled in favor of the AAR.

Amtrak logoAn earlier decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court which sent the case back to the appeals court for further review.

AAR had brought suit against the U.S. Department of Transportation in an effort to invalidate Section 207 of the 2008 PRII law.

In its latest ruling, the appeals court said the law’s giving Amtrak the authority to write regulations that affect its host railroads is in violation of the Constitution’s Due Process clause.

The court also knocked down the clause that gives the Surface Transportation Board the authority to appoint a mediator to arbitrate disputes between Amtrak and a host railroad over on-time performance.

The case has a long history that began with a federal district court siding with the U.S. DOT in favor of the law.

AAR appealed that decision to the appeals court, which said in July 2013 that Amtrak is a private company.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in March 2015 that Amtrak must be considered a governmental entity but instructed the appeals court to decide the question of the propriety of a government entity that is a participant in a private marketplace being able to regulate that marketplace.

However, concurring opinions by justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas noted that the situation might violate a host railroad’s right to due process.

Those opinions said that regulators must be “disinterested” government bodies rather than competitors in the business.

In its latest ruling, the appeals court cited the Alito and Thomas’s opinions, but conceded that Amtrak and its contract railroads are not competing for the same customers.

They are, however, the court said, competing for the same scarce railroad route capacity and therefore must be considered economic competitors.

As for the STB’s authority under the 2008 law to appoint an arbitrator, the appeals court said that an independent arbitrator appointed by the STB cannot make final regulations because he or she is not a duly appointed or sworn Officer of the United States, as the Constitution requires.

The AAR originally filed suit acted after the U.S. DOT began to promulgate regulations under Section 207 if the PRII with the railroad trade group arguing that the law was an unconstitutional delegation of rule-making to a private company.

In briefs to the court, the AAR relied on the congressional proclamation of the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 creating the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) not be treated as a government entity but instead be operated as a for-profit business.

Although the appeals court last week struck down Section 207, it left the rest of the 2008 PRII intact and did not disturb Amtrak’s statutory rights to access of freight railroad tracks on an incremental cost basis.

Nor did the appeals court set aside laws that give Amtrak trains “preference over freight transportation.”

Congress could revise the 2008 law to grant the U.S. DOT the sole power to write on-time performance metrics and standards, in consultation with Amtrak and other others.

In doing so, Congress could give the authority to mediate between Amtrak and a contract railroad to the STB, whose members are duly sworn Officers of the United States, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The court did not say that it was improper for the federal government to promulgate on-time performance regulations.

U.S. Supreme Court Sides With Amtrak in Case

March 10, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with Amtrak in a dispute with its host railroads over on-time standards.

The court unanimously found that Amtrak is a government entity and it directed the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reconsider the case in light of the high court’s ruling.

That court had ruled in a case brought by the Association of American Railroads that Amtrak was a private company and therefore could not participate in setting standards with the FRA in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008’s Section 207, which sets measurable thresholds of on-time performance, because one private entity (Amtrak), would be regulating others (host railroads).

The district court had also expressed reservations about the constitutionality of Amtrak’s structure.

Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy cited a 1995 Supreme Court case in which Amtrak had tried to argue it was private, but lost.

In the AAR case, Kennedy wrote, “The political branches created Amtrak, control its Board, define its mission, specify many of its day-to-day operations, have imposed transparency and accountability mechanisms, and for all practical purposes set and supervise its annual budget.”

Kennedy also said the District Court will still need to deal with the issue of whether the delegation of powers to Amtrak violates the Due Process or Appointments clauses of the Constitution.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr., wrote separate concurring opinions in which each expressed reservations about Amtrak’s structure.

Alito argued that Section 207’s arbitration provision “is fair game for challenge,” because if a private arbitrator were chosen to decide a dispute over metrics between the FRA and Amtrak (which didn’t happen), that person would be “making law without supervision” and that would be illegal.

Alito also said that since Amtrak’s president is appointed by the board of directors but not the President of the United States, “it does not necessarily follow that the present structure of Amtrak is consistent with the Constitution.”