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MONONGAHELA CONNECTING RAILROAD COMPANY v. PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION (08/17/79)

decided: August 17, 1979.

MONONGAHELA CONNECTING RAILROAD COMPANY, PETITIONER
v.
PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION, RESPONDENT



Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in case of Pennsylvania State Legislative Board, United Transportation Union and John Collett v. Monongahela Connecting Railroad Company, No. C. 22377, dated July 5, 1978.

COUNSEL

W. McCook Miller, Jr., with him Kenneth L. Salmon and Kirkpatrick, Lockhart, Johnson & Hutchison, for petitioner.

James J. Kutz, with him Candace N. Kreiger, Assistant Counsel, John B. Wilson, Deputy Chief Counsel, and George M. Kashi, Chief Counsel, for respondent.

Thomas P. Shearer, for additional respondent.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Mencer, Blatt, DiSalle, Craig and MacPhail. Judges Wilkinson, Jr. and Rogers did not participate. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.

Author: Macphail

[ 45 Pa. Commw. Page 166]

Monongahela Connecting Railroad Company (Railroad) brings this appeal from an order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) directing the Railroad to install an occupational block signal at the approaches of a blind curve on a railroad track within the Jones and Laughlin Steel plant at Pittsburgh. Following a head-on collision by two trains on the high grade eastbound track at the blind curve location, these proceedings were initiated with the PUC by the filing of a complaint by the Pennsylvania State Legislative Board, United Transportation Union (UTU) and John Collett, individually and on behalf of the UTU membership. The UTU is an additional respondent on appeal. The Railroad raises two issues for our consideration: whether the PUC is without jurisdiction to act in this case because the area of railroad safety with which we are concerned here has been preempted by federal law and whether the order of the PUC is supported by substantial evidence on the record. For the reasons which follow, we affirm.

[ 45 Pa. Commw. Page 1671]

. Federal Preemption

The Railroad argues that the PUC was without jurisdiction to order the installation and use of block signals on the high grade eastbound track at the Jones and Laughlin plant because the regulation of such matters has been preempted by federal law, specifically, the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 (FRSA), 45 U.S.C. § 421 et seq.

The law of federal preemption was well summarized by the United States District Court in its opinion in National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners v. Coleman, 399 F. Supp. 1275, 1278 (M.D. Pa. 1975), aff'd, 542 F.2d 11 (3d Cir. 1976):

The exercise of federal supremacy is not lightly to be presumed. It will not be presumed that a federal statute was intended to supersede the exercise of the power of the state unless there is a clear manifestation of intention to do so. . . . [R]ecent decisions of the Supreme Court suggest that where Congress has not made clear its intention to preempt or where the conflict is only a potential one or peripheral to the purpose of the federal statute, state legislation will be allowed to stand. . . . Federal regulation of a field of commerce should not be deemed preemptive of state regulatory power unless the nature of the regulated subject matter permits no other conclusion or Congress has unmistakably so ordained. . . . The Supreme Court in certain contexts has resolved the preemption issue on the basis of whether a state enactment frustrates any part of the purpose of the federal legislation. . . . [F]ederal preemption is not lightly to be presumed, but where there is a pervasive and comprehensive scheme of federal regulation, particularly when the subject is one traditionally committed to federal regulation,

[ 45 Pa. Commw. Page 168]

    state enactments which stand as a major obstacle to the accomplishment of Congressional objectives ...


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