Maurer v. Boardman

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation7 A.2d 466
PartiesMAURER et al. v. BOARDMAN, Secretary of Revenue, et al.
Decision Date03 July 1939
7 A.2d 466

MAURER et al.
BOARDMAN, Secretary of Revenue, et al.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

July 3, 1939.

7 A.2d 467

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7 A.2d 468

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7 A.2d 469

Appeal No. 20, May term, 1939, from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Dauphin County, sitting in Equity, at No. 1308, Equity Docket, 1937, No. 281, Commonwealth Docket, 1937; Frank E. Wickersham, Judge.

Suit by Alfred A. Maurer and another, trading as Maurer & Myers Auto Convoy, against J. Griffith Boardman, Secretary of Revenue of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, P. W. Foote, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Motor Police, and Charles J. Margiotti, Attorney General of the Commonwealth

7 A.2d 470

of Pennsylvania, to enjoin the enforcement of a statute, 75 P.S. § 642(c), forbidding the operation upon highways of Pennsylvania of a vehicle carrying an automobile over the cab or head of the operator of the carrier vehicle, wherein certain parties intervened and a preliminary injunction was granted. A decree nisi was entered dissolving the preliminary injunction and dismissing the bill of complaint and exceptions to findings were dismissed by trial court in banc, and from a decree dismissing the bill, plaintiffs appeal. Affirmed.


James H. Booser, Gilbert Nurick, Sterling G. McNees, and McNees, Hollinger & Nurick, all of Harrisburg, for appellants.

Claude T. Reno, Atty. Gen., George W. Keitel, Asst. Deputy Atty. Gen., and James D. McHugh, of Bala, for appellee.

Richard N. Clattenberg, Harold S. Shertz, and Richard V. Zug, all of Philadelphia, for intervener.

BARNES, Justice.

Plaintiffs seek to enjoin the enforcement of Section 1033 (c) which was added to the Vehicle Code by the Act of June 29, 1937, P.L. 2329, 2401, 75 P.S. § 642(c). This act forbids the operation upon the highways of this Commonwealth of a vehicle carrying an automobile over the cab or head of the operator of the carrier vehicle. Its provisions became effective upon the approval of the act by the Governor on June 29, 1937, but the granting of a preliminary injunction in the court below has resulted in postponing the date of enforcement. The defendants are the Secretary of Revenue, the Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Motor Police, and the Attorney-General, as the officers of the Commonwealth who are charged with the duty of administering and enforcing the provisions of the statute.

The act of 1937 added new sections to the Vehicle Code, one of which is designated as "Section 1033." The part thereof which is here challenged is sub-section (c), reading, except for the penalty clause, as follows: "No person shall operate a vehicle on the highways of this Commonwealth carrying any other vehicle, any part of which is above the cab of the carrier vehicle or over the head of the operator of such carrier vehicle."

It is admitted by defendants that they have instituted prosecutions under this Section in a number of cases within the state, and have taken steps to enforce the act against the plaintiffs, and generally throughout the Commonwealth. The plaintiffs, a partnership, have their principal place of business in Bloomsburg, Columbia County. The M. & G. Convoy, Inc., a New York corporation, having its office at Buffalo, filed a similar bill in equity for a restraining order against the defendants, and like action was taken by John G. Reeser, of Duncannon, Pennsylvania. All these parties are engaged principally in the business of transporting new automobiles upon tractors and trailers especially constructed for that purpose, and their operations are almost wholly in interstate commerce. A number of owners and operators of such motor equipment intervened in the proceeding instituted by the M. & G. Convoy, Inc., and thereafter the three cases were consolidated in the court below.

In conducting their operations as common, carriers of automobiles, the plaintiffs use forty vehicles, twelve of which are owned by them, and twenty-eight are upon lease. Plaintiffs allege that this equipment has a replacement value of approximately $100,000. All but one of these vehicles are registered in Pennsylvania, and the registration fees for the year 1937 have been paid to the Department of Revenue of this state. Each vehicle is built to carry four automobiles, and is so constructed that a portion of one of the transported automobiles rests over the cab of the carrier vehicle.1 Plaintiffs further allege that they have built up an extensive transportation business, their gross receipts for 1936 being approximately $200,000, which affords regular employment to some seventy-eight persons.

Plaintiffs assert that the effect of the act in question will be to deprive them of the use of their property, because the removal of the car carried over the cab will take from the front wheels the weight required to afford traction to the carrier vehicle; that the vehicles cannot be remodeled to conform with the requirements of the act, so that a car will not be carried in that position. In consequence they say that it will be necessary for them to curtail, and

7 A.2d 471

possibly discontinue, their operations, as it is not feasible to reroute their traffic to avoid traveling through this state.

It is therefore averred that the prohibition contained in Section 1033(c) of the Vehicle Code is unconstitutional, illegal and void for the following reasons: (1) it is not a valid exercise of the police power of the state, because the regulation is arbitrary and is not reasonably related to public safety; (2) it deprives plaintiffs of the use of their property without due process of law in violation of the Federal and State Constitutions (P.S.Pa.Const. art. 1, § 9; U.S.C.A.Const. Amend. 14), and also constitutes special legislation of the character forbidden by the Constitution of this Commonwealth (P.S.Const, art. 3, § 7); (3) that this state is without authority or jurisdiction to legislate upon the subject of interstate commerce upon its highways, because of the enactment by Congress of the Motor Carrier Act, 1935, 49 U.S.C.A. §§ 301-327, and the issuance of regulations by the Interstate Commerce Commission pursuant thereto; (4) that the prohibition of the act constitutes an unreasonable and invalid burden upon interstate commerce, even in the absence of federal legislation upon the subject.

At the hearing in the court below there was evidence on behalf of the Commonwealth to prove that the operation of a truck-tractor with car over cab is dangerous and unsafe to the operator thereof and to the traveling public; that the hazards of highway travel are materially increased by the use of these vehicles upon the roads of the Commonwealth, as was shown by testimony establishing the following facts: (a) The automobile over the cab raises the center of gravity of the vehicle, resulting in making its operation difficult, particularly on curves of the type to be found in Pennsylvania; (b) excess weight is placed upon the front wheels of the truck-tractor, thereby affecting detrimentally its steering, the action of its brakes, and throwing its headlights out of focus, to the danger of oncoming traffic; (c) the extension of the carried automobile and the vertical framework supporting it over the cab of the truck-tractor obstruct the vision of the operator, as well as that of drivers of over-taking vehicles; (d) overhead and lateral obstructions along the highway cause the truck-tractor to be operated upon the wrong side of the road, to avoid scratching and damage to the carried vehicle; (e) the chains used to anchor the automobile over the cab, and the supporting structure, are insufficient to resist the force transmitted in the event of collision, with the result that the automobile becomes detached and falls off the carrier vehicle.

The Commonwealth contended that the establishment, maintenance and control of its highways are within the police power of the state, in the exercise whereof it has the right to forbid the operation thereon of vehicles or equipment which are dangerous or unsafe to the traveling public; that the provisions of the Section here involved were intended by the legislature solely as a safety measure. Evidence was also produced at the hearing of accidents in which this type of equipment was involved, from which it appeared that the transported automobile in such instances became dislodged and personal injuries and property damage resulted.

Following the hearing, the findings of the Chancellor were filed, in which it was held that Section 1033 (c) is a valid exercise of the police power of the state, which the legislature not only had the power but was under a duty to enact, to provide for the public safety; that the car over the cab equipment, used by plaintiffs, is dangerous and unsafe when operated upon the highways of the state, and that plaintiffs were not entitled to the injunctive relief which they sought. Thereupon the court entered a decree nisi dissolving the preliminary injunction, and dismissing the bill of complaint. Exceptions to the findings were dismissed by the court in banc, and from the final decree dismissing the bill the plaintiffs have appealed to this Court.

As a valid exercise of the police power of the state, this subsection of the act cannot successfully be questioned, in view of the decisions of this Court and those of the Supreme Court of the United States, which have broadly sustained that power. The state, as the owner of the highways, roads, streets and bridges of the Commonwealth (Tranter v. Allegheny County Authority, 316 Pa. 65, 74, 173 A. 289) may vacate them or make any regulation necessary for the protection of life, limb or property thereon. The plenary power of the legislature so to regulate the use of the highways of the Commonwealth is of ancient standing. The regulation may not, of course, capriciously or arbitrarily...

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