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National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners v. Coleman

decided: August 31, 1976.

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REGULATORY UTILITY COMMISSIONERS, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION,
v.
WILLIAM T. COLEMAN, JR., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND ASAPH H. HALL, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ACTING ADMINISTRATOR OF THE FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK (INTERVENING PLAINTIFF IN D.C.), NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REGULATORY UTILITY COMMISSIONERS, THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AND THE PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION, (PLAINTIFFS IN D.C.) AND THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, (INTERVENING PLAINTIFF IN D.C.), APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Seitz, Chief Judge, Aldisert and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

SEITZ, Chief Judge.

The issue presented on this appeal is whether the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 45 U.S.C. § 421 et seq., empowers the Federal Railroad Administration to promulgate regulations which preempt state railroad accident reporting requirements.

The pertinent facts may be briefly summarized. Plaintiffs are the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), and the Department of Transportation of the State of New York. The defendants are the Secretary and Department of Transportation, and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Acting Administrator thereof.

In December 1974, the FRA amended Part 225 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations to provide nationally uniform requirements for the reporting of railroad accidents to the FRA. The regulations contained the following provision:

"Issuance of these regulations under the Federal Railroad Safety Act preempts States from prescribing accident/incident reporting requirements."

49 C.F.R. § 225.1.

Plaintiffs then filed this action requesting the court to declare invalid and to enjoin enforcement of the regulations to the extent they preempt state accident reporting requirements. The district court, in a thorough and well-reasoned opinion,*fn1 denied plaintiffs' requests for relief, finding that the Federal Railroad Safety Act empowered the FRA to issue the challenged regulation. This appeal followed.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the PUC first contend that the district court erred in denying their motion to request the convening of a three-judge court to review the FRA's order. At the time this action was commenced, review of agency action under the Accident Reports Act required the convocation of a three-judge court, whereas agency orders under the Federal Railroad Safety Act were reviewable by a single district judge. In the instant case, the regulations promulgated by the FRA expressly state that they are based, in general, on the authority of both Acts. However, the specific provision challenged here which preempts state accident reporting requirements recites as its sole statutory basis the Federal Railroad Safety Act. We therefore conclude that the single district judge correctly denied plaintiffs' motion and properly exercised jurisdiction in the instant case.

We turn, therefore, to plaintiffs' allegations of error with respect to the district court's conclusion that the Federal Railroad Safety Act authorizes the FRA to issue preemptive accident reporting regulations. Applying the test set forth in Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132, 10 L. Ed. 2d 248, 83 S. Ct. 1210 (1963), plaintiffs maintain that Congress did not "unmistakably ordain", and the nature of accident reporting requirements does not require, that state reporting requirements be preempted. Rather, they assert, the Federal Railroad Safety Act contemplates concurrent state and federal regulation in the accident reporting and railroad safety field. On the other hand, defendants contend and the district court concluded that the express language and legislative history underlying the Federal Railroad Safety Act both manifest an intent on the part of Congress to provide a nationally uniform system of railroad safety regulations, a goal which can only be achieved through the preemption of state requirements.

Our analysis commences with the language of the Federal Railroad Safety Act itself, which provides in pertinent part:

§ 434. National uniformity of laws, rules, regulations, orders, and standards relating to ...


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