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Michigan S. R.R. v. Kendallville, Ind., City of

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20692
Nos. No. 00-4213, 251 F.3d 1152/(7th Cir., 06/06/2001)

The court holds that the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) preempted a municipal ordinance requiring a railroad to cut weeds along its right-of-way within the municipality. The FRSA regulates every area of railroad safety, and the Act preempts all railroad safety legislation except for specific state participation exemptions. The municipality, however, claims that because an FRSA regulation governing vegetation on railroad property applies only to the area immediately adjacent to the tracks, which the parties stipulated to be 15 feet from the center of the tracks, the municipality can regulate the rest of the railroad right-of-way. The court first holds that, nevertheless, the municipal ordinance could affect safety, and the existence of a federal vegetation control regulation is solid evidence that the Secretary of Transportation thinks vegetation control is a safety issue. The court next holds that while the FRSA state participation exemption allows states some leeway to impose certain safety requirements on railroads, that leeway is limited and municipalities do not have greater rights than the states. In fact, the municipal ordinance affirmatively violates a requirement set out in the FRSA state participation exemption that requires state laws, regulations, or orders not to place an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce. The court further holds that aside from the FRSA exemption, the municipal ordinance completely undermines the goal of national uniform railroad regulation.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (6 pp., ELR Order No. L-374).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Jonathan L. Kazense
Law Offices of Jonathan L. Kazense
1318 Johanson Rd., Peoria IL 61607
(309) 697-1400

Counsel for Defendant
Michael M. Yoder
Yoder Law Office
515 Professional Way, Kendallville IN 46755
(219) 347-9400