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National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. 3.44 Acres More or Less of Land and Building

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 20, 2017

3.44 ACRES MORE OR LESS OF LAND AND BUILDING located at 900 2ndStreet NE, Washington, DC 20002-3557, et al., Defendants.


          CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER United States District Judge

         The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, known by all as “Amtrak, ” can take “interests in property” by eminent domain where those interests are “necessary for intercity rail passenger transportation.” 49 U.S.C. § 24311(a)(1)(A). Relying on this authority, Amtrak filed suit in July 2015 to condemn two parcels of land owned by Defendant Fluorine LLC that sit adjacent to Washington Union Station.

         Fluorine has filed a motion for partial summary judgment challenging Amtrak's statutory authority to take one of the parcels, which contains an office building and an underground parking garage. It reads the statute governing Amtrak's acquisitions narrowly as requiring absolute, last-resort necessity, and it contends that the parcel is not indispensable to Amtrak's operations. Amtrak responds in a cross-motion that the condemnation is amply justified under § 24311 because Amtrak has reasonably deemed the property necessary to further its goals. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Amtrak's motion and deny Fluorine's.

         I. Background

         Washington's iconic Union Station is Amtrak's headquarters and one of its busiest rail stations. Since 2012, defendant Fluorine LLC has owned two adjacent parcels of land just north of Union Station. The parcels hug the west side of 2nd Street Northeast and abut the east side of the railroad tracks that head north out of Union Station. The first parcel, Lot 814, contains a surface parking lot with an electrical substation beneath it. The other, Lot 812, contains an office building called the Railway Express Agency Building (“REA Building”) and an underground parking garage. Together, the lots comprise nearly 110, 000 square feet.

         Historically, Amtrak leased office space in the REA Building and had additional access to it through various easements. At the time Amtrak condemned the lots, it was the building's largest tenant-it leased almost 35, 000 square feet, or 30% of its leasable space. Amtrak also controlled an underpass below Union Station that extends under the H Street Bridge and connects with the parking garage beneath the REA building. It previously granted Fluorine's predecessor an easement to use that underpass for vehicle access and parking.

         As part of its efforts to develop the Northeast Corridor railway line from Boston to Washington, D.C., Amtrak in 2012 began devising a plan to rehabilitate and expand Union Station. Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 22, at 11:6-12:1. The result was an omnibus “Union Station Master Plan, ” which contemplated Amtrak's “reconstruction of all tracks [and] platforms, creating a series of new concourses below the tracks, ” and overall sought to “provide safer, more efficient, more accessible services for passengers and for employees.” Id. Ex. 23, at 17:1-13.

         Over the next three years, Amtrak studied how best to expand the station's capacity and, as part of this process, commissioned a report assessing the possible acquisition of the two parcels at issue. Id. at 31:15-34:8. That 2012 report considered the operational and financial consequences of the possible purchase, and in the end recommended acquisition. Id. at 33:16- 22; see also Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. D (sealed report).

         In January 2015, after further study, Amtrak personnel created a presentation for its Board of Directors proposing Amtrak's acquisition of the REA Building, as well as the adjacent parking lot and air rights above it. See Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 32. The proposal explained that Amtrak needed to own the parcels to address six “Strategic Issues” related to the Union Station Master Plan. Id. at 8. First, Amtrak required “access to a portion of the REA property” to construct a new, expanded railroad track. Id. at 9. Second, Amtrak sought to gain control over its “40 easements across, under and above” the parking lot and its subsurface easements running beneath the REA Building. Id. at 11. Third, once the tracks were reconfigured pursuant to the Master Plan, the REA Building would provide “the only access” for emergency vehicles to the tracks. Id. at 12. Fourth, the parking lot was “the only suitable space” for constructing improvements to the lower-level tracks. Id. at 13. Fifth, to accommodate new and future expansion, Amtrak needed to relocate several structures currently housed in the western part of Union Station's rail yard. Id. Finally, the presentation identified a need for “emergency pedestrian egress pathways and control of [the] H Street Underpass, ” through which Fluorine had an easement. Id. at 8.

         In May 2015, Amtrak's Board of Directors approved a resolution authorizing Amtrak to purchase Lots 812 and 814 or, if unable to strike a deal, to condemn them by eminent domain. See Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 9, at 15-16. The resolution declared that Amtrak's acquisition of the building was “necessary for Amtrak's intercity rail passenger transportation” id. at 16, noting that Amtrak provided rail service “over numerous essential easements located throughout the property on which the REA Building is located, ” id. at 15.

         Three weeks after the resolution passed, Amtrak sent a letter to Fluorine offering to purchase the two lots for $35 million. Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 34. Fluorine rejected the offer three days later in a one-line letter: “Thank you for your interest. Fluorine, LLC has no intent [o]n selling the property.” Id. Ex. 35.

         Amtrak then brought this condemnation action in July 2015. As required by 49 U.S.C. § 24311(b)(1), Amtrak filed a declaration (a) stating “the public use for which the interest is taken”; (b) describing the property; (c) stating the interest in the property; (d) “showing the interest taken”; and (e) estimating just compensation for the interest taken. See Decl. of Taking (ECF No. 3). It also deposited $35 million with the Court as an estimate of just compensation. Id. ¶ 16.

         Two months after Amtrak commenced this action, the parties stipulated to Amtrak's acquisition of the property but reserved “Fluorine's right to contest the validity of Amtrak's taking.” Joint Stipulation and Order 3 (ECF No. 23). Following discovery, both Amtrak and Fluorine moved for partial summary judgment on the sole question of whether Amtrak was permitted to take Lot 812, the parcel containing the REA Building and the underground parking garage. The Court held a hearing on the cross-motions on August 29, 2017.

         II. Standard of Review

         A party is entitled to summary judgment if the pleadings and other materials in the record show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). “[A] material fact is ‘genuine' . . . if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” on a particular claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         III. ...

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