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Island Park, LLC. v. CSX Transporation

June 26, 2007

ISLAND PARK, LLC, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER SERVICE CORPORATION ("AMTRAK"), THOMAS J. MADISON, JR., IN HIS CAPACITY AS COMMISSIONER OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION ("NYSDOT"), AND DENNISON P. COTTRELL, IN HIS CAPACITY AS DIRECTOR OF THE PASSENGER AND FREIGHT SAFETY DIVISIONOF NYSDOT, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Island Park, LLC ("Island Park" or "Plaintiff") operates a nursery and cultivates trees and plants on its property in Rensselaer County, New York. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) at ¶¶ 1, 17-18. Island Park's property is bisected by north-south railroad tracks that are part of the Hudson Line, which runs between Albany and New York City, and are owned by Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. ("CSXT"). Id. at ¶¶ 5, 17-18; Defts' Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 3) at ¶ 2. Defendant Consolidated Rail Corporation ("Conrail") owned the Hudson Line prior to CSXT's acquisition of Conrail's interest. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) at ¶ 4; Defts' Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 3) at ¶ 4. Defendant National Railroad Passenger Service Corporation ("Amtrak") maintains portions of the Hudson Line. Defts' Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 3) at ¶ 5. Island Park has an easement to use a railroad crossing known as Abele's Crossing, which Plaintiff accesses through private unpaved roads on either sides of the tracks. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) at ¶¶ 2, 19; Defts' Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 3) at ¶ 8.

On February 16, 2005, the New York Department of Transportation ("NYSDOT") commenced an administrative proceeding, pursuant to section 97 of the New York Railroad Law, to determine if Abele's Crossing "should be altered or closed and discontinued." Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) at ¶ 52; Defts' Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 3) at ¶ 14. After holding several public hearings, on February 27, 2006, Administrative Law Judge David S. Nealon recommended that Abele's Crossing be closed. Defts' Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 3) at ¶ 27, 29. Following Judge Nealon's recommendation, on March 8, 2006, Island Park received an order signed by Defendant Dennisson P. Cottrell, Director of NYSDOT's Passenger and Freight Safety Division, directing that CSXT implement the closure and discontinuance of Abele's Crossing by removing the crossing surface and installing barricades preventing the use of the crossing. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) at ¶ 90; Defts' Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 3) at ¶ 30.

Shortly after receiving NYSDOT's order, Island Park commenced this action and moved for a preliminary injunction to stop the closure of Abele's Crossing. See Compl. (Dkt. No. 1); Order to Show Cause (Dkt. No. 4). Plaintiff also seeks a permanent injunction enjoining Defendants from enforcing or executing NYSDOT's closure order, and alleges that the order is preempted by federal law, deprives Plaintiff of its property interest without due process, and constitutes a taking without just compensation or due process in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as the Constitution's Commerce Clause. See Compl. (Dkt. No. 1). This Court issued an Order to show cause and temporarily restrain Defendants from closing Abele's Crossing pending the determination of the parties' motions. See Order to Show Cause (Dkt. No. 4); Stipulation (Dkt. No. 6).

Presently before the Court are: two Motions for summary judgment by Defendants CSXT, Conrail, and Amtrak (collectively the "Railroad Defendants"); a Motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Cottrell and Defendant Thomas J. Madison, Jr. ("Madison" or "Commissioner"), NYSDOT Commissioner (collectively, the "State Defendants"); and Island Park's Cross-Motion for partial summary judgment with respect to the second and third causes of action contained in its Complaint and a stay of the remaining claims pending a determination by the New York State Supreme Court, Albany County. See Dkt. Nos. 38, 39, 40, & 45. For the following reasons, Motions for summary judgment by Railroad Defendants and State Defendants are granted in part and denied in part; Plaintiff's Motion is denied. However, based on the submissions, the Court sua sponte grants summary judgment to Plaintiff on its first cause of action, finds that closure of the crossing by section 97 is preempted by federal law, and permanently enjoins Defendants from closing Abele's Crossing pursuant to said statute.

I. Background

Island Park's nursery consists of approximately 400 acres; it stores its tractors on the east side of CSXT's tracks and uses Abele's Crossing to accesses the fields on the west side of the tracks. Plntf's Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 12) at ¶ 9. Plaintiff asserts that almost one-quarter of its cultivated fields and crops are on the west side of the tracks. Id. at ¶ 14. Abele's Crossing is accessible only from a private, unpaved road on Island Park's property, which makes it a "private" crossing used by an individual and not the general public. Id. at ¶ 5; Defts' Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 3) at ¶ 9. The Hudson Line consists of two sets of parallel railroad tracks, which are raised and bordered by embankments at the Abele's Crossing site. Plntf's Response to Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 12) at ¶ 11; Defts' Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 3) at ¶ 11. The crossing consists of the unpaved roads that connect to asphalt between the rails and the tracks; there is no automated warning system. Plntf's Response to Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 12) at ¶ 12; Defts' Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 3) at ¶ 12.

Members of the Abele family (the "Abeles") previously owned Island Park's nursery. Plntf's Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 12) at ¶ 22. In August, 1981, the Abeles brought an action in New York State Supreme Court, Rensselaer County seeking an order enjoining Conrail from interfering with their right of way and use of the crossing. Plntf's Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 12) at ¶¶ 23-24. The Abeles alleged that in 1978, Conrail, as part of its improvements of the Hudson Line, raised the tracks but failed to restore the planks between the tracks that constituted the crossing. CSXT Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 5) at ¶ 2. In October, 1988, the Abeles and Conrail entered into a stipulation that required Conrail to restore the crossing, pay the Abeles $100,000, and "cease and desist from interfering with said crossing of the plaintiffs and their predecessors and successors in interest from now until all time." Id. at ¶ 25 (quoting stipulation). On June 21, 1989, the New York State Supreme Court issued an order ("1989 Order") reiterating the terms of the 1988 stipulation, and directed Conrail to "restore the railroad crossing and maintain said crossing in the present and in the further at defendant's sole expense." Id. at ¶¶ 26-27. Pursuant to the 1989 Order, it is undisputed that CSXT and Conrail made certain improvements to Abele's Crossing. Id. at ¶ 28; Railroad Defts' Joint. Resp. (Dkt. No. 53) at ¶ 28. Thereafter, Plaintiff asserts that the crossing has been used on a continuous basis, first by the Abeles and, after purchasing the property and crossing at issue in 1999, by Island Park. Buono Aff. (Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 4) at ¶¶ 21-24.

Plaintiff asserts that in or about late 2004 and early 2005, NYSDOT invited Joseph Buono ("Buono"), Island Park's sole shareholder, to attend meetings at its office in Colonie, New York. Id. at ¶¶ 2, 25. According to Plaintiff, NYSDOT representatives advised Buono that they intended to close Abele's Crossing and asked him to prepare a summary of costs Island Park would incur as a result. Id. at ¶ 25.

NYSDOT commenced an administrative proceeding pursuant to section 97 of the New York Railroad Law, on February 16, 2005, to determine if Abele's Crossing should be closed. Plntf's Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 12) at ¶31. On February 22, 2005, , NYSDOT's Office of Proceedings issued a notice scheduling a hearing before Judge Nealon. Id. at ¶ 32. Buono asserts that he again met with NYSDOT representatives on February 28, 2005; according to Buono, the representatives stated that the crossing should be closed, though there were no funds allocated to compensate Island Park for the closure, and that a bridge approximately ten (10) miles south of the crossing would be built in its place. Buono Aff. (Dkt. No. 45, Attach. ) at ¶¶ 30-32.

Judge Nealon held a public hearing in connection with the NYSDOT proceeding over a fourday span between March 10 and May 6, 2005. Defts' Joint Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 3) at ¶ 15. After considering testimony from multiple witnesses, on February 27, 2006, Judge Nealon issued a decision and recommendation that Abele's Crossing be closed. Id. at ¶ 29. To reach his decision, Judge Nealon considered a number of factors, including: the physical characteristics of the crossing and their effect on safety; the public's use of the tracks; Plaintiff's use of the crossing; and alternatives to the crossing available to Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 17. Judge Nealon concluded that the significant rail traffic and poor sight distance caused by the curvature and elevation of the tracks made it dangerous for some of Plaintiff's vehicles and equipment to cross the tracks at Abele's Crossing. Id. at ¶ 28 (citing Nealon Decision). Moreover, Judge Nealon noted that other points of access were safer and allowed Plaintiff access to its fields on the other side of the tracks. Id. The following day, Defendant Cottrell signed the order implementing Judge Nealon's recommendation and directing CSXT to close Abele's Crossing. Id. at ¶ 30. Plaintiff then commenced this action seeking to enjoin the State and Railroad Defendants from enforcing the closure order. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1). On June 27, 2006, Plaintiff commenced a special proceeding in New York State Supreme Court, Albany County, alleging, inter alia, that the NYSDOT disregarded its property interests in Abele's Crossing and failed to follow procedures set forth in New York's eminent domain law. State Defts' Stat. of Mat. Facts (Dkt. No. 40, Attach. ) at ¶ 3.

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Courts applying this standard must "resolve all ambiguities, and credit all factual inferences that could rationally be drawn, in favor of the party opposing summary judgment." Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 251 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Cifra v. Gen. Elec. Co., 252 F.3d 205, 216 (2d Cir. 2001)).

Once the moving party meets its initial burden by demonstrating that no material fact exists for trial, the non-movant "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citations omitted). The non-movant "must come forth with evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in her favor." Brown, 257 F.3d at 251 (citation omitted). Bald assertions or conjecture unsupported by evidence are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. Carey v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1991); W. World Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil, Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d Cir. 1990).

B. Plaintiff's Constitutional Claims Against State Defendants

Plaintiff contends that the State Defendants' order closing Abele's Crossing is a taking of its real property interest without due process in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plntf's Mem. of Law (Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 10) at 6. The State Defendants assert that the Eleventh Amendment bars suits seeking monetary damages or retroactive injunctive relief against a state without its consent or Congress's abrogation of its immunity. State Defts' Mem. of Law (Dkt. No. 40, Attach. 7) at 11-12. The State Defendants claim that Plaintiff's action is essentially one for money damages, a type of action for which New York State has not consented to suit in federal court. Id. Additionally, the State Defendants argue that for Plaintiff to assert successfully a takings claim it must show: (1) that a final decision regarding the property has been made, and (2) that Plaintiff was denied just compensation by means of an adequate state procedure; State Defendants argue that Plaintiff had not sought compensation through the state courts until after the commencement of this action, and, therefore, there has been no final determination of compensation and Plaintiff has not exhausted its state remedies. Id. at 13-14. There are no disputed material facts.

1. Due Process Claim

Plaintiff claims that the State Defendants' order directing the Railroad Defendants to barricade its easement across the tracks was a taking accomplished without regard to State laws governing condemnation and without due process of law. Plntf's Mem. of Law (Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 10) at 6. Plaintiff notes that section 97(5) of the New York Railroad Law directs NYSDOT's Commissioner to acquire easements, when deemed necessary in connection with proceedings under this section, in the same manner as property is acquired for state highway purposes. Id. at 8. Plaintiff explains that the New York Highway Law requires property to be acquired as provided in the eminent domain procedure law, which Plaintiff asserts requires notice, an opportunity to be heard, and compensation. Id. Instead of adhering to the eminent domain procedures, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Cottrell simply issued an administrative order directing CSXT to barricade the crossing; Plaintiff asserts that this alleged failure to comply with New York's eminent domain procedure represents an appropriation of private property without due process of law. Id.

The Due Process Clause only protects against deprivations of constitutionally protected interests in property when such deprivations have occurred without due process of law. See Rivera-Powell v. New York City Bd. of Elections, 470 F.3d 458, 464-65 (2d Cir. 2006). Once it has been established that a plaintiff has been deprived of a protected life, liberty or property interest, in order "'to determine whether a constitutional violation has occurred, it is necessary to ask what process the State provided, and whether it was constitutionally adequate.'" Id. at 465 (quoting Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 126 (1990)). State Defendants do not argue that Island Park did not have a property interest in Abele's Crossing; instead, they argue: (1) that the Eleventh Amendment bars claims seeking monetary damages or retroactive injunctive relief; (2) that failure to follow section 97(5) constitutes a "random unauthorized act" for which there exists a post-deprivation remedy that satisfies constitutional due process requirements; and (3) that the hearing that was held adequately provided the required constitutional process. See State Defts' Mem. of Law (Dkt. No. 40, Attach. ) at 11-12; State Defts' Resp. Mem. of Law (Dkt. No. 50, Attach. 10) at 4-5.

i. Sovereign Immunity Does Not Bar Plaintiff's Claims Against State Defendants

The Supreme Court has consistently held that under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution federal courts lack jurisdiction not only over suits against a state brought by citizens of other states, but also over suits against such states brought by their own citizens. Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890); Edelman v. Jordan, 451 U.S. 651, 662-63 (1974). However, a suit for damages against a state may be brought in federal court if the state has consented to suit or Congress has properly abrogated the states' Eleventh Amendment immunity. Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54-57 (1996). This action comes before the Court, in part, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which does not constitute an exercise of congressional authority to abrogate any state's Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit for claims brought pursuant to said statute. Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 340-342 (1979). In addition, the State of New York has not consented to be sued in federal court pursuant to § 1983. Dube v. State Univ. of New York, 900 F.2d 587, 594 (2d Cir. 1990)

New York State's immunity from suits commenced under § 1983 does extend to agents and instrumentalities that act effectively as arms of the state. See Woods v. Rondout Valley Cent. Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 466 F.3d 232 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425, 429 (1997); citing McGinty v. New York, 251 F.3d 84, 95 (2d Cir. 2001)). However, Plaintiffs are seeking to invoke the doctrine of Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), which is a limited exception to the general principle of sovereign immunity; this exception allows a suit against individual state officials when the complaint alleges an ongoing violation of federal law and seeks prospective injunctive relief to prohibit the violations. See CSX Transp., Inc. v. N.Y. State Office of Real Prop. Servs., 306 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2002). Plaintiff states that it seeks prospective relief aimed at stopping State Defendants from barricading Abele's Crossing, which it asserts would be a de facto taking without due process of law. Plntf's Mem. of Law (Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 10) at 12. Plaintiff's remedy seeks to prevent the State Defendants from implementing an order that would allegedly amount to an ...


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