Justices to hear appeal over trains blocking road crossings

The Indiana Supreme Court will decide whether state or federal law controls how long trains may block road crossings.

The court agreed last week to hear the railroad’s appeal of an Indiana Court of Appeals decision reversing an Allen Superior judge’s ruling to grant Norfolk Southern Railroad Company summary judgment. The Court of Appeals ruled that federal law does not preempt state laws that forbid trains from blocking road crossings for more than 10 minutes.

Virginia-based Norfolk Southern argues that Indiana Code 8-6-7.5-1, which regulates the amount of time trains may block roadways, was preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The railroad does not dispute nearly two dozen citations Indiana issued for blocking crossings, but it says federal law preempts enforcement of the state statute.

But writing for the COA panel, Judge Melissa May held on a matter of first impression that federal codes do not address how long trains may block roads, and other federal circuits have ruled that states have the power to regulate crossings. “Without state action,” May wrote, “railroads would be allowed to block major thoroughfares for an infinite amount of time because the federal regulation is silent.”

The case is State of Indiana v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company, 02A03-1607-IF-1524.

Justices also agreed last week to hear a dispute over whether an auditor’s error should invalidate a Henry County tax sale.

In that case, the Indiana Court of Appeals allowed Lamasco Redevelopment LLC to move forward with its purchase of two Henry County properties at tax sale despite the county auditor’s failure to comply with Indiana Code 32-21-8-7. The auditor claimed the office inadvertently violated that statute by endorsing deeds to transfer the original property owners’ interests in the parcels to other persons prior to issuing tax deeds for the parcels to Lamasco.

The COA let the sale stand, with Senior Judge John Sharpnack writing that the purchaser should not be penalized for the government entity’s error. “Viewed equitably, Lamasco, who did all required by law, stands on higher ground than the county officials who failed to do all required by law and the grantees who benefitted from that failure.”

The case is Lamasco Redevelopment LLC v. Henry County Auditor, et al., 33A01-1702-MI-398.

Justices granted two of 25 transfer petitions reviewed last week. Supreme Court transfer petition decisions may be viewed here.

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