ALABAMA – Federal Preemption

The plaintiffs filed an action in the Monroe Circuit Court seeking to quiet title to a right-of-way that had been conveyed by Alabama Railroad Company to the Monroe County Commission for use as a recreational trail. Plaintiffs argued that the Commission’s right of way over their land had been abandoned pursuant to Alabama property law. The trial court agreed, holding that the right of way was abandoned under Alabama law and quieting title to the land in favor of Plaintiffs.

On appeal, the Commission contended that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because the Surface Transportation Board (STB) has exclusive jurisdiction over abandonments of regulated rail lines pursuant to the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA). The Alabama Supreme Court rejected the Commission’s argument and affirmed the Trial Court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiff, reasoning, “…the goal of the STB is to limit, if not prevent, state regulation of interstate rail transportation to avoid the pitfalls and nuances of laws enacted by each state’s legislature that would deter a railroad’s ability to operate efficiently and the possibility of divergent regulations from each state.” “In this case, we are not faced with an Alabama regulation attempting to regulate rail transportation and to limit the use of rail property to deter interstate commerce. Rather, we are dealing with state property laws that existed before the advent of railroads, and we are asked to consider the impact of a railroad right-of-way, reserved in a quitclaim deed, on the rights of an adjoining property owner when the purpose of the right-of-way has lapsed by nonuse…”

The Alabama Supreme Court’s opinion in Monroe shows that when a decision will have no implications on the spirit or intentions of a federal act, the High Court is unwilling to apply federal pre-emption principles in determining real property rights, which are traditionally governed by State law.

Monroe County Commission v. A.A. Nettles, Sr. Properties Limited and Eula Lambert Boyles (Appeal from Monroe Circuit Court: CV-17-900097)

Read the full opinion here…

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