CSX Transp., Inc. v. Easterwood, 507 U.S. 658 (1993)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 91-790. Argued January 12, 1993—Decided April 21, 1993*

After her husband was killed when a train owned and operated by CSX Transportation, Inc., collided with his truck at a Georgia crossing, Lizzie Easterwood brought this diversity wrongful-death action, alleging, inter alia, that CSX was negligent under Georgia law for failing to maintain adequate warning devices at the crossing and for operating the train at an excessive speed. The District Court granted summary judgment for CSX on the ground that both claims were pre-empted under the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 (FRSA). The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the allegation based on the train's speed was pre-empted but that the claim based on the absence of proper warning devices was not.

Held: Under the FRSA, federal regulations adopted by the Secretary of Transportation pre-empt Easterwood's negligence action only insofar as it asserts that CSX's train was traveling at an excessive speed. Pp. 661-676. (a) The FRSA permits the States to "adopt or continue in force any law, rule, regulation, order, or standard relating to railroad safety until such time as the Secretary has adopted a . . . regulation . . . covering the subject matter of such State requirement," and, even thereafter, to adopt safety standards more stringent than the federal requirements "when necessary to eliminate or reduce an essentially local safety hazard," if those standards are compatible with federal law and do not unduly burden interstate commerce. 45 U. S. C. 434. Legal duties imposed on railroads by a State's common law of negligence fall within the scope of 434's broad phrases describing matters "relating to railroad safety." The section's term "covering" indicates that pre-emption will lie only if the federal regulations substantially subsume the subject matter of the relevant state law. Pp. 661-665. (b) The Secretary's grade crossing safety regulations do not "cove[r] the subject matter" of Easterwood's warning devices claim. In light of the relatively stringent standard set by 434's language and the pre-*Together with No. 91-1206, Easterwood v. CSX Transportation, Inc., also on certiorari to the same court.

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