44 A.3d 480 (N.H. 2012), 2011-144, Pelkey v. Dan's City Used Cars, Inc.

Docket Nº:2011-144.
Citation:44 A.3d 480, 163 N.H. 483
Opinion Judge:LYNN, J.
Party Name:Robert PELKEY v. DAN'S CITY USED CARS, INC. d/b/a Dan's City Auto Body.
Attorney:Kazan, Shaughnessy, Kasten & McDonald, PLLC, of Manchester (Brian C. Shaughnessy on the brief and orally), for the plaintiff. Downs RachlinMartin PLLC, of Lebanon (Kate Strickland on the brief and orally), for the defendant.
Judge Panel:DALIANIS, C.J., and HICKS and CONBOY, JJ., concurred.
Case Date:April 10, 2012
Court:Supreme Court of New Hampshire

Page 480

44 A.3d 480 (N.H. 2012)

163 N.H. 483



DAN'S CITY USED CARS, INC. d/b/a Dan's City Auto Body.

No. 2011-144.

Supreme Court of New Hampshire.

April 10, 2012

Argued: Feb. 9, 2012.

Page 481

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 482

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 483

Kazan, Shaughnessy, Kasten & McDonald, PLLC, of Manchester (Brian C. Shaughnessy on the brief and orally), for the plaintiff.

Downs RachlinMartin PLLC, of Lebanon (Kate Strickland on the brief and orally), for the defendant.


[163 N.H. 486] The plaintiff, Robert Pelkey, appeals the decision of the Superior Court ( Garfunkel,

Page 484

J.) granting the motion for partial summary judgment of the defendant, Dan's City Used Cars, Inc. d/b/a Dan's City Auto Body. We reverse and remand.

I. Background

The following facts are drawn from the record. In March 2009, the plaintiff brought suit against both his landlord, Colonial Village, and the defendant. In his writ, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant towed his 2004 Honda Civic pursuant to a parking policy at Colonial Village requiring tenants to move their cars during snowstorms. At the time, the plaintiff was confined to bed due to a serious medical condition and did not realize that his car had been towed. Soon thereafter, he was admitted to the hospital for a procedure to amputate his left foot, during which he suffered a heart attack. After returning home and learning that his car was missing, he had his attorney make inquiries into its location. His attorney learned that the defendant had possession of the car and had scheduled it to be sold at a public auction two days later. After the attorney informed the defendant that his client wished to arrange for the return of his vehicle, the defendant falsely told the attorney that the car had been sold at public auction. The defendant later traded the car to a third party, but the plaintiff received no remuneration for his loss.

The plaintiff brought this lawsuit in 2009, alleging that the defendant violated: (1) the Consumer Protection Act, see RSA 358-A:2 (2009); (2) RSA chapter 262, a statute permitting a towing company to place a lien on a vehicle for reasonable charges incident to towing and storage and prescribing the requirements for collection of those charges by selling the vehicle at auction; and (3) the common law duty of a bailee to exercise reasonable care while in possession of a bailor's property. The trial court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the grounds that a provision of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA), a federal law deregulating the trucking industry, preempted the plaintiff's claims. See 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1) (2006). This appeal followed.

II. Federal Preemption— General Principles

A moving party is entitled to summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits filed, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." RSA 491:8-a, III (2010). In reviewing the trial court's grant of summary judgment, we consider the affidavits and other evidence, and all [163 N.H. 487] inferences properly drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Waterfield v. Meredith Corp., 161 N.H. 707, 709, 20 A.3d 865 (2011). If our review of that evidence discloses no genuine issue of material fact, and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we will affirm the grant of summary judgment. Id. The adverse party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials in his pleadings, but his response, by affidavits or by reference to depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. RSA 491:8-a, IV (2010). We review the trial court's application of the law to the facts de novo. Waterfield, 161 N.H. at 709, 20 A.3d 865.

We also review the trial court's statutory interpretation de novo. State v. Beauchemin, 161 N.H. 654, 658, 20 A.3d 936 (2011). Because the meaning of § 14501(c)(1) is a question of federal law, we interpret it in accordance with federal

Page 485

policy and precedent. Cf. State v. Buchanan, 155 N.H. 505, 506, 924 A.2d 422 (2007). When interpreting a statute, we first look to the language of the statute itself, and, if possible, construe that language according to its plain and ordinary meaning. Beauchemin, 161 N.H. at 658, 20 A.3d 936. We do not read words or phrases in isolation, but in the context of the entire statutory scheme. New Hampshire Health Care Assoc. v. Governor, 161 N.H. 378, 385, 13 A.3d 145 (2011).

The Interstate Commerce Act, as amended by the FAAAA, 108 Stat. 1606 (1994), and the ICC Termination Act of 1995, 109 Stat. 899 (1995), preempt states and their subdivisions from enacting or enforcing any law "related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier ... with respect to the transportation of property." 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1). Towing companies, as entities that provide "motor vehicle transportation for compensation," 49 U.S.C. § 13102(14) (2006), are motor carriers under the terms of the act. Columbus v. Ours Garage & Wrecker Service, Inc., 536 U.S. 424, 430, 122 S.Ct. 2226, 153 L.Ed.2d 430 (2002). Among the exceptions to the general preemption clause is § 14501(c)(2)(C), which provides that preemption does not apply to the authority of a state to enact or enforce laws relating to the price of towing services if such services are performed without the prior consent of the vehicle's owner.

Congress's goal in enacting § 14501(c)(1) and similar provisions affecting the airline and shipping industries was to help "assure transportation rates, routes, and services that reflect maximum reliance on competitive market forces, thereby stimulating efficiency, innovation, and low prices, as well as variety and quality." Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transp. Ass'n, 552 U.S. 364, 371, 128 S.Ct. 989, 169 L.Ed.2d 933 (2008) (quotations omitted). Its history reflects this free market economic goal. In 1994, over a decade after Congress had deregulated the trucking industry in 1980, see Motor Carrier Act of 1980, 94 Stat. 793 (1980), Congress precluded states from regulating [163 N.H. 488] the industry. See Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994, 108 Stat. 1605-06; ICC Termination Act of 1995, 109 Stat. 899; see also 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(4)(A) (2006) (similar provision for combined motor-air carriers). In doing so, Congress intended to free motor carriers operating in interstate commerce from unreasonably burdensome state and municipal regulations. See Ours Garage, 536 U.S. at 440, 122 S.Ct. 2226 (citing H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 103-677, at 87 (1994), 1994 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1715 and Pub.L. 103-305 § 601(a)(1), 108 Stat. 1605).

Two general principles guide courts in the interpretation of express preemption provisions like § 14501(c)(1). "First, because the States are independent sovereigns in our federal system, we have long presumed that Congress does not cavalierly pre-empt state-law causes of action. In all preemption cases, and particularly in those in which Congress has legislated ... in a field which the States have traditionally occupied, we start with the assumption that the historic police powers of the States were not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress." Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470, 485, 116 S.Ct. 2240, 135 L.Ed.2d 700 (1996) (quotations and citations omitted). Second, "analysis of the scope of the statute's preemption is guided by [the] oft-repeated comment ... that the purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone in every pre-emption case." Id. (quotations omitted).

Page 486

Federal precedent makes clear that the "relating to" language in § 14501(c)(1) is construed broadly. Cf. Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374, 383-84, 112 S.Ct. 2031, 119 L.Ed.2d 157 (1992). In Morales, the United States Supreme Court held that the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA), a law with a preemption provision similar to § 14501(c)(1),1 "pre-empts the States from prohibiting allegedly deceptive airline fare advertisements through enforcement of their general consumer protection statutes." Id. at 378, 112 S.Ct. 2031. Several state attorneys general had developed, and sought to enforce against airlines, advertising guidelines that would satisfy state consumer protection laws. The Court reasoned that the phrase "related to" was "deliberately expansive" and adopted a standard that state actions would be preempted if they had "a connection with, or reference to" airline rates, routes, or services. Id. at 384, 112 S.Ct. 2031. Under...

To continue reading