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Joint Rail Authority case goes to state Supreme Court

SEDA-Council of Government Joint Rail Authority’s appeal of a court decision addressing the process for a new rail freight operating agreement is headed to the state Supreme Court.

The issue involves a vote by the Joint Rail Authority in July 2015 to award an operating agreement to Carload Express Inc.

“We are pleased with the court’s order and look forward to making our case,” Joint Rail Authority Executive Director Jeff Stover said.

Stover said he’s not surprised the Supreme Court is taking on the issue.

“When we found the state law was in conflict, that was a red flag,” he said. “Of course, it was up to us to appeal it.”

In awarding the agreement in July 2015 by a 7-3 vote, six board members had abstained from voting because of a conflict of interest, including five who were shippers of the five shortlines the Joint Rail Authority operates.

The Joint Rail Authority claimed that nine votes were needed to constitute a majority.

Carload officials disagreed and asked the issue to be decided in Clinton County Court with Judge Michael F. Salisbury ruling that nine votes indeed constituted a majority.

Commonwealth Court subsequently reversed that decision in May 2018, ruling that contracts could be awarded by a majority of members present and voting.

Following that decision, the Joint Rail Authority filed a petition for allowance of appeal with the Supreme Court, seeking a review of issues. Officials stated “the law’s language was misapplied, Supreme Court precedent was overlooked, and the Joint Rail Authority’s discretion to design and implement its own contracting process was undermined by the Commonwealth Court.”

They claim the crux of the case calls into question whether the law requires a majority vote by “members present” or those “present and voting.” The case also addresses the scope of discretion the Joint Rail Authority has in designing and implementing its own procurement processes.

Joint Rail Authority Chairman John Showers said he’s happy the Supreme Court is reviewing the issues, especially given the low number of cases it accepts for discretionary review.

“The court’s decision on the issues in this case will have a far-reaching impact for, not only the Joint Rail Authority, but also municipal authorities throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” he said.

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