The Supreme Court of South Carolina affirmed a determination that the City's public nuisance ordinance, which brought one of Norfolk's bridges within the definition of a public nuisance, was preempted by federal law governing the operation and maintenance of railroad bridges.
Norfolk owns or holds a leasehold interest in a railroad bridge crossing over U.S. Hwy. 321 within the City's corporate limits. From 2005 to 2007, the City asked Norfolk to paint the bridge because of rust and graffiti covering the bridge. The City considered the bridge a nuisance because it was an "eyesore" that "creates a negative impression" and detracts from the value of nearby property. Norfolk stated that it did not have the funds to paint the bridge.
In May 2007, the City added subsection (7) to its public nuisance ordinance (Cayce, SC, Code - 28-51) so that it included the following as public nuisances:
The City subsequently cited Norfolk, and a municipal judge found Norfolk guilty of violating the ordinance. Norfolk appealed. The circuit court reversed and found that the ordinance was preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The City appealed.
(1) All structures bearing graffiti;
. . . .
(7) All privately-owned structures elevated above street grade and extending over or across public streets or highways, such as overpasses, bridges, trestles or elevated passageways, whose exterior finish is destroyed, decayed, dilapidated, deteriorated or rusted.
The Supreme Court stated that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution makes federal law, where it applies, supreme over state law. Preemption turns on the intent of Congress. The ICCTA created a federal board with jurisdiction over transportation by rail carriers. The federal statute expressly states that the Board has jurisdiction over "transportation by rail carriers" and "facilities of such carriers," as well as the "operation" of those facilities. 49 U.S.C.A. - 10501 (2007). The ICCTA defines "railroad" as including bridges used by a railroad. 49 U.S.C.A. - 10102(6). The statute expressly states that the Board's jurisdiction preempts state law.
The Court agreed that the Board's jurisdiction "includes the railroad's bridges and any operations conducted thereupon for the purpose of transportation." Although the municipal judge found that there was no specific federal regulation covering the appearance of railroad bridges, the ordinance is preempted if it interferes with the railroad's ability to conduct its operations or otherwise unreasonably burdens interstate commerce. Express or direct conflict is not required.
Based on all the evidence, the Court determined that the ordinance would have an effect on Norfolk's operations that fall within the ICCTA. The Court also determined that a patchwork of various local and state laws affecting the industry would be detrimental to its orderly functioning. Because railroad trestles and bridges are, by federal law, considered part of the operations of the industry, enforcement of the City's aesthetic ordinance would have an impact on Norfolk's operations.