Where a railroad waited too long before suing over alleged anticompetitive conduct involving deliveries at the Norfolk International Terminals, or NIT, it could not rely on new overt acts to revive the time-barred claims. And because the new, timely overt acts did not inflict new and accumulating harm, summary judgment was granted to the defendants on the damages’ claims.
CSX Transportation Inc. alleges that Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line Railway Company and Norfolk Southern Railway Company committed monopolistic antitrust violations, or unlawfully colluded with each other in restraint of trade, in a manner that prevented CSX from fairly competing to transport international shipping containers destined for the NIT. Defendants have filed motions for summary judgment.
Statute of limitations
It is undisputed that the longest applicable limitations period for any claim in this case is five years, with the federal antitrust claims governed by a four-year limitations period. CSX nevertheless argues that it is entitled to the “continuing violation” doctrine.
CSX first contends that proof of an ongoing conspiracy during the limitations period as illustrated by any overt act is enough to support recovery for all damages caused by the conspiracy. The court rejects this contention. Instead, the limitations period restarts only as to the new damages arising from new overt acts committed during the limitations period.
CSX also contends that the Zenith exception governing speculative damages applies in this case. However, CSX has not at any time pointed to evidence in the record suggesting that CSX’s damages could not have been calculated in or around 2009 without resort to speculation, and this court is not independently aware of any such evidence.
CSX highlights three groups of “overt acts” occurring during the four years preceding suit. The summary judgment record reveals that the 2015 conduct could be interpreted as an overt act causing two types of harm to CSX, but CSX has not sought recovery for this harm in this case.
As to the 2016 and 2018 conduct, CSX has not demonstrated that any of the acts it points to is a new overt act that inflicted new and accumulating harm. Instead, CSX is attempting to breathe life into time-barred claims in the absence of any new harm linked to any recent overt acts.
Finally, even if the court found that the 2015 conduct was potentially actionable, CSX relies exclusively on a damages model that is fatally flawed, and defendants therefore demonstrate that they should prevail on the damages claim as a matter of law. Summary judgement is therefore granted in defendants’ favor as to damages.
The court asked the parties during the summary judgment hearing what effect, if any, a defense-favorable limitations ruling would have on any injunctive relief claims remaining in this case. The court finds that court-initiated summary judgment should not be granted in favor of either defendant on the issue of injunctive relief.
Though CSX does not challenge the court’s ability to raise a summary judgment issue on its own if the parties are provided sufficient time to present all relevant materials, it effectively argues that the complexity of the factual and legal issues pertinent to this courtraised issue do not support entry of summary judgment based on the expedited schedule that occurred after the summary judgment hearing.
Defendants’ remaining arguments
Defendants advance several additional challenges to CSX’s ability to prevail at trial on its federal antitrust claims, which if successful, would preclude a trial on injunctive relief. Those include challenges to: (1) CSX’s definition of the relevant market; (2) whether an “agreement” to restrain trade or to establish or maintain an unlawful monopoly was ever entered into by defendants and (3) whether two firms can collectively form a monopoly. The court finds that genuine and material factual disputes preclude summary judgment on most of these arguments and subarguments.
The court need not determine which limitations period applies to CSX’s common law conspiracy claim because it fails even under the more generous five-year limitations period. Defendants’ motions are therefore granted as to this claim.
Defendants’ motions for summary judgment granted in part, denied in part.
CSX Transportation Inc. v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company, Case No. 2:18-cv-5301, Jan. 3, 2023. EDVA at Norfolk (Davis). VLW 023-3-002. 104 pp.