Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. STB, No. 22-1209 (D.C. Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Norfolk Southern Railway Company (Norfolk Southern) petitioned for review of a decision of the Surface Transportation Board (STB or Board), the successor agency to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) charged with authorizing certain rail carrier transactions under the Interstate Commerce Act. Norfolk Southern is a rail carrier that owns a 57.14 percent share of the Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line Railroad Company (Belt Line), the operator of a major switching terminal in Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk Southern’s majority interest goes back to 1982, when its corporate family acquired and consolidated various rail carriers with smaller ownership interests in the Belt Line. Norfolk Southern’s competitor, CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX), owns the remainder of the Belt Line’s shares (42.86 percent). This case involves a different question raised before the Board for the first time: whether the ICC/Board approvals of Norfolk Southern’s subsequent corporate-family consolidations in 1991 and 1998 authorized Norfolk Southern to control the Belt Line. The Board again answered no. Norfolk Southern petitioned for review.
The DC Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the Board’s decision regarding the 1991 and 1998 transactions is neither arbitrary nor capricious. The Board reasonably sought to avoid an absurd interpretation of 49 C.F.R. Section 1180.2(d)(3)’s corporate-family exemption that would allow a carrier to gain control of a new entity without following the Board’s review requirements and then “cure that unauthorized acquisition by reorganizing the corporate family.” The Board reasonably rejected Norfolk Southern’s claim that, by reshuffling the pieces of its corporate family, it acquired control authority of the Belt Line sub silentio.