Department Of Transportation v. Association Of American Railroads

135 S.Ct. 1225 (2015)


Congress created the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, most often known as Amtrak. Amtrak is a corporation established and authorized by a detailed federal statute enacted by Congress for no less a purpose than to preserve passenger services and routes on our Nation’s railroads. As a condition of relief from their common-carrier duties, Congress required freight railroads to allow Amtrak to use their tracks and facilities at rates agreed to by the parties-or in the event of disagreement to be set by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). Of course, things got royally screwed up with conflicting schedules and priorities over those who owned the tracks that Amtrak was usurping. Congress then passed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) in 2008. Congress granted Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) joint authority to issue “metrics and standards” that address the performance and scheduling of passenger railroad services. The PRIIA specifies that the metrics and standards created are to be used for a variety of purposes and requires the FRA to “publish a quarterly report on the performance and service quality of intercity passenger train operations” addressing the specific elements to be measured by the metrics and standards. Under the now new statutes, if the on-time performance of any intercity passenger train averages less than 80 percent for any 2 consecutive calendar quarters,” the STB may initiate an investigation “to determine whether and to what extent delays . . . are due to causes that could reasonably be addressed . . . by Amtrak or other intercity passenger rail operators.” In other words, those who owned the tracks had to give Amtrak priority and be assessed damages for the failure to do so.  Amtrak and the FRA published a notice in the Federal Register inviting comments on a draft version of the metrics and standards. P alleged injury to its members from being required to modify their rail operations, which mostly involve freight traffic, to satisfy the metrics and standards. P claimed that §207 “violates the nondelegation doctrine and the separation of powers principle by placing legislative and rulemaking authority in the hands of a private entity [Amtrak] that participates in the very industry it is supposed to regulate.” P also asserted that §207 violates the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause by “vesting the coercive power of the government” in Amtrak, an “interested private party.” The District Court granted summary judgment to Ds on both claims. It rejected P's nondelegation argument on the ground that the FRA, the STB, and the political branches exercised sufficient control over promulgation and enforcement of the metrics and standards so that §207 is constitutional. The Court of Appeals reversed because “Amtrak is a private corporation with respect to Congress’s power to delegate . . . authority,” it cannot constitutionally be granted the “regulatory power prescribed in §207.” The Supreme Court granted certiorari.