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BNSF Railway Company v. City of Edmond

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

October 30, 2019

BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, A Delaware Corporation, Plaintiff,
CITY OF EDMOND, OKLAHOMA, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff BNSF Railway Company has filed this lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Oklahoma's recently enacted “Blocked Crossing Statute, ” Okla. Stat. tit. 66, § 190. Plaintiff's Complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and names five Defendants. Two are municipal corporations: (1) City of Edmond, Oklahoma; and (2) City of Davis, Oklahoma. Three are individuals sued in their capacity as officials of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (“OCC”): (3) Todd Hiett (OCC Chairman); (4) Bob Anthony (OCC Vice-Chairman); and (5) Dana Murphy (OCC Commissioner) (collectively, the “OCC Defendants”). See Compl. (Doc. No. 1) at 1-2.

         Now before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Improper Parties (Doc. No. 26) filed by the OCC Defendants. Plaintiff has filed a Response (Doc. No. 33), to which the OCC Defendants have replied (Doc. No. 34). Neither of the other Defendants has responded.

         I. The Statute

         Effective July 1, 2019, the Blocked Crossing Statute provides in relevant part:

A. As it is immediately necessary for the safety and welfare of the people, no railcar shall be brought to rest in a position which blocks vehicular traffic at a railroad intersection with a public highway or street for longer than ten (10) minutes.
B. Municipalities, county sheriffs and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol shall have the authority to issue a citation to any person or corporation that violates a provision of this section. Such person or corporation shall be subject to a fine of up to One Thousand Dollars ($1, 000.00) for each violation. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the collected fine shall be deposited to the credit of the general fund of the entity that issued the citation and the remaining twenty-five percent (25%) shall be credited to the Corporation Commission Revolving Fund established in Section 180.7 of Title 17 of the Oklahoma Statutes. A copy of the citation, along with any information regarding train identification, shall be sent to the Corporation Commission for enforcement of the penalty at a hearing before an administrative law judge of the Commission. The violating entity or individual may appeal the administrative law judge's decision to the Commission en banc. The Commission shall annually deliver an electronic report detailing the number of violations, number of rulings, number of appeals and amount of fines assessed under this section. Commission reports shall be delivered to the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the President Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma State Senate and the Governor. The Commission shall promulgate rules and procedures to effectuate the provisions of this section.

Okla. Stat. tit. 66, § 190.

         II. The OCC Defendants' Motion

         Plaintiff in its Complaint alleges that the Blocked Crossing Statute is unconstitutional because it is preempted by and inconsistent with governing federal statute. See Compl. ¶¶ 15-29. Citing Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), the OCC Defendants argue that they are improperly named as defendants on this lawsuit because they “only adjudicate” the challenged statute and “do not enforce” its provisions.[1] OCC Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Improper Parties at 1-2. The OCC Defendants also argue that they should be dismissed from this lawsuit based upon considerations of federal-state comity. See Id. at 4-5.

         III. Dismissal Under Rule 12(b)(1)

         The OCC Defendants first argue that dismissal is required due to a “lack of subject-matter jurisdiction” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). “A facial attack on the complaint's allegations regarding subject matter jurisdiction questions the complaint's sufficiency and requires the court to accept the allegations as true.” Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1097 (10th Cir. 2009).

         The OCC Defendants essentially assert that no justiciable “case or controversy” exists between Plaintiff and these Defendants. See United States v. Wilson, 244 F.3d 1208, 1213 (10th Cir. 2001) (“Under Article III of the Constitution, federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction only over ‘cases and controversies.'”). The OCC Defendants contend that they act merely as “judicial officers, ” not enforcers, and thus are not proper parties to a suit challenging a statute. OCC Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Improper Parties at 2-4 (citing In re Justices of Sup. Ct. of P.R., 695 F.2d 17 (1st Cir. 1982)).[2]

         The Court rejects the OCC Defendants' overly narrow construction of the “case or controversy” requirement, however. Plaintiff's Complaint plausibly supports a finding that the issues in this case are “live” and that Plaintiff has “a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.” Citizens for Responsible Gov't State Political Action Comm. v. Davidson, 236 F.3d 1174, 1182 (10th Cir. 2000) (“The crucial question is whether granting a present determination of the issues offered will have some effect in the real world.” (omission and internal quotation marks omitted)). Accepting the Complaint's factual allegations as true, as required at this stage, the pleading adequately demonstrates a controversy that is “definite and concrete, touching on the legal relations of the parties having adverse legal interests”-i.e., the relations of Plaintiff and the OCC Defendants. Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 240-41 (1937); see, e.g., Compl. ¶¶ 8-11, 21, 29. Whether Plaintiff ultimately can prevail upon its claims against the OCC Defendants is a separate matter. Cf. Cramer v. Okla. Cty. Bd. of Cty. ...

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