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Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Ritter

March 27, 2008

CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GERARD A. RITTER AND SUSAN R. NOREK EX REL. GERARD H. RITTER, DECEASED, DEFENDANTS.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN M. GRIBBIN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 6

Document No. 9

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS'MOTIONS TO DISMISS

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiff, Consolidated Rail Corporation ("Conrail"), hauls these cases before the court seeking declaratory relief under the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973 ("Rail Act"), 45 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq., as amended by the Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981 ("NRSA"), 45 U.S.C. §§ 1101 et seq. Specifically, Conrail requests that the court enter an order declaring that the Rail Act proscribes successor liability for personal injury claims stemming from conduct prior to Conrail's formation. The defendants are former employees of Erie Lackawanna -- a railroad company whose assets were transferred to Conrail pursuant to the Rail Act. These defendants allege that Erie Lackawanna negligently exposed them to asbestos and have filed suits against Conrail, which are currently pending in Pennsylvania state court, to recover under the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51 et seq.,for the adverse effects of this exposure. They contend that the Rail Act does not prevent their claims from moving forward. The court agrees. Because the Rail Act's successor liability provisions relate to land use, the court concludes that the Act does not address the type of successor liability at issue here -- preconveyance personal injury claims. Therefore, the court grants the defendants' motions to dismiss.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Congress established Conrail under the Rail Act of 1973 to revitalize the rail industry by creating "an economically viable system capable of providing adequate and efficient rail service." 45 U.S.C. § 701(b). In so doing, Congress, in conjunction with the Special Court constituted under the Rail Act, transferred the assets from Erie Lackawanna and several other Northeast railroad companies to Conrail "free and clear of any liens or encumbrances." Ritter Compl. ¶¶ 7-9 (quoting 45 U.S.C. § 743(b)(2)); Gribbin Compl. ¶¶ 8-10 (same).

Before the transfer and reorganization, the defendants allege that their former employer, Erie Lackawanna, negligently exposed them to asbestos in violation of FELA. Ritter Mot. to Dismiss ("Ritter Mot."), Ex. A; Gribbin Mot. to Dismiss ("Gribbin Mot."), Ex. A. They, or their personal representatives, initiated suits in Pennsylvania state court against Conrail, as Erie Lackawanna's alleged successor-in-interest, to recover for injuries or death that they contend resulted from the exposure to asbestos. Ritter Compl. ¶¶ 4-5; Gribbin Compl. ¶¶ 4-5.

On July 27, 2007, while the defendants' FELA suits were proceeding in Pennsylvania state court, Conrail filed complaints in this court requesting that the court determine the scope of Conrail's successor liability for personal injury claims. Ritter Compl. ¶¶ 19-22; Gribbin Compl. ¶¶ 21-24. The defendants subsequently filed motions to dismiss, asserting that their personal injury claims do not fall within the protections envisioned under the Rail Act. With the issues ripe for review, the court turns to the defendants' motions.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-89 (1938); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (noting that "[a]s a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction").

Because "subject-matter jurisdiction is an 'Art. III as well as a statutory requirement[,] no action of the parties can confer subject-matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.'" Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting Ins. Corp. of Ir., Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxite de Guinea, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982)). On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). The court may dismiss a complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Empagran S.A. v. F. Hoffman-Laroche, Ltd., 315 F.3d 338, 343 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).

Because subject-matter jurisdiction focuses on the court's power to hear the claim, however, the court must give the plaintiff's factual allegations closer scrutiny when resolving a Rule 12(b)(1) motion than would be required for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 69 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). Thus, the court is not limited to the allegations contained in the complaint. Hohri v. United States, 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds, 482 U.S. 64 (1987). When necessary, the court may consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced ...


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