Maurer v. Hamilton, 380

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation309 U.S. 598,135 A.L.R. 1347,84 L.Ed. 969,60 S.Ct. 726
Docket NumberNo. 380,380
PartiesMAURER et al. v. HAMILTON, Sec. of Revenue of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al. Re
Decision Date22 April 1940

309 U.S. 598
60 S.Ct. 726
84 L.Ed. 969
MAURER et al.


HAMILTON, Sec. of Revenue of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al.

No. 380.
Reargued March 27, 28, 1940.
Decided April 22, 1940.


Page 599

Messrs. Sterling G. McNees, Edmund M. Brady, and Gilbert Nurick, all of Harrisburg, Pa., for appellants.

Mr. George W. Keitel, of Harrisburg, Pa., for appellees.

Mr. Justice STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question for decision is whether a statute of Pennsylvania prohibiting the operation over its highways of any motor vehicle carrying any other vehicle over the head of the operator of such carrier vehicle, is superseded by the rules and regulations promulgated by the Interstate Commerce Commission under the Motor Carrier Act of 1935, 49 Stat. 543, 49 U.S.C. §§ 301—327, 49 U.S.C.A. §§ 301—327, applicable to common and contract carriers in interstate commerce.

Appellants, co-partners engaged as common carriers in the business of transporting in interstate commerce new

Page 600

automobiles upon motor trucks specially constructed for that purpose, brought this suit in the Pennsylvania state courts to enjoin appellees, state officers, from enforcing against appellants § 1033(c) of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, P.L. 2401, effective June 29, 1937, 75 P.S. § 642(c), which prohibits the operation on the highways of the state of any vehicle carrying any other vehicle 'above the cab of the carrier vehicle or over the head of the operator of such carrier vehicle.'1 Two other like suits brought by motor carriers engaged in like transportation interstate were consolidated with the present suit.

After a hearing in which there was extensive evidence tending to show that the transportation by appellants over the state highways of cars placed above the cab of the transporting vehicle is unsafe to the driver and to the public, the trial court found that the location of motor vehicles over the cab of the carrier rendered its operation dangerous on the curves and grades of the Pennsylvania

Page 601

highways. It found that such location of the carried car above the driver raises the center of gravity of the loaded car above that which is normal in trucking operations, places excessive weight on the front axles and tires, obscures the vision of the driver of the carrier car, with the results that it increases the difficulty of steering the loaded car, adversely affects braking, particularly on curves, and affects the balance of the loaded car so as to make its use on the highways dangerous.

It also found that in case of collision or loss of control the overhead car has a tendency to fly off the cab, in consequence of which, in numerous cases, serious injury had resulted to the operator of the truck or to the colliding car and its occupants, or both, and that the height of the overhead car and its interference with the driver's vision causes him to drive on the wrong side of the road in order to avoid overhead obstructions. The court concluded that the state statute was a safety regulation of motorcars using the highways of the state and that, as applied to appellants, it infringed neither the commerce clause of the Federal Constitution, art. 1, § 8, cl. 3 nor the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and gave judgment dismissing the complaint. On appeal the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania confirmed the findings of the trial court and affirmed the decree. Maurer v. Boardman, 336 Pa. 17, 7 A.2d 466. The case comes here on appeal under Section 237 of the Judicial Code, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 344, 28 U.S.C.A. § 344.

Before the present suit was brought, the Interstate Commerce Commission, purporting to act under the Motor Carrier Act, had promulgated regulations effective July 1, 1936, with respect to 'safety of operation and equipment' of common and contract motor carriers in interstate commerce, subject to the Act. These regulations contained no provisions specifically applicable to cars carried over the cab of the carrier vehicle. On March 11, 1939, while the present cause was pending be-

Page 602

fore the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Interstate Commerce Commission, in 'Car Over Cab Operations', 12 M.C.C. 127, issued its report of an investigation of the practice of the car over cab method of transportation of motor vehicles, in which it announced its conclusion that 'The record discloses no testimony whatsoever to show that the operation of motor vehicles, used in transporting new automobiles, and which are so constructed that one of the automobiles being transported extends in whole or in part over the cab, is unsafe. On the contrary, the evidence is clear that the average number of accidents in which vehicles of this type are involved is less than the country's average for all trucks. We find no reasons of record why the operations of such vehicles should be forbidden. The safety regulations heretofore prescribed by us, of course, apply to these as well as other vehicles operated by common and contract carriers in interstate or foreign commerce. The operations of vehicles so equipped are therefore permitted by the existing regulations, and there is no need for change.' (p. 132.)2

Page 603

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania took judicial notice of this action of the Commission, but concluded that the authority of the state to enact § 1033(c) of the Vehicle Code was unimpaired by federal action under the commerce clause for the reason that the applicable provisions of the Motor Carrier Act, enacted by Congress, did not purport to withdraw from the state its constitutional power to make the regulation embodied in that section, and for a second reason, which we find it unnecessary to consider, that in any case the action of the Commission in declining to adopt any rule or regulation with respect to the car over cab practice of interstate common and contract motor carriers could not be taken as a mandate to such carriers to continue the practice despite state regulation prohibiting it.

Appellants assail the state statute on the grounds that even though it is unaffected by the provisions of the Motor Carrier Act it nevertheless infringes the commerce clause and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that in any case the statute is superseded by the action taken by the Commission in conformity to the Motor Carrier Act.

Only a word need be said of the constitutional objections. The present record lays a firm foundation for the exercise of state regulatory power, unless the state has been deprived of that power by Congressional action authorizing the commission to substitute its judgment for that of the state legislature as to the need and propriety of the state regulation. The nature and extent of the state power, in the absence of Congressional action, to regulate the use of its highways by vehicles engaged in interstate commerce has so recently been considered by this Court that it is unnecessary to review the authorities now, or to restate the standards which define the state power to prescribe regulations adapted to promote safety upon its highways and to insure their conservation

Page 604

and convenient use by the public. See South Carolina Highway Dept. v. Barnwell Bros., 303 U.S. 177, 58 S.Ct. 510, 82 L.Ed. 734. Judged by these standards we can find no basis for saying that the Pennsylvania statute is not such a regulation or that it is a denial of due process or that it infringes the commerce clause if Congress has not authorized the Interstate Commerce Commission to promulgate a conflicting rule.

This brings us to the more serious question whether Congress, by the enactment of the Motor Carrier Act of 1935, as a regulation of interstate commerce, has undertaken to deprive the state of the power to impose the present regulation upon vehicles moving in interstate commerce. With the adoption of the Motor Carrier Act, the national government embarked on the regulation of a type of interstate traffic, many of whose regulatory problems bear little resemblance to those of other systems of transportation which had previously been subjected to Congressional control. They presented difficulties and complexities differing from and far exceeding those of any earlier regulations of interstate commerce. Our most extensive experience had been in the national regulation of rail carriers, operating over roads and with rolling stock privately owned and controlled, with standards of roadbed, operation and equipment, substantially uniform throughout the country, and with the movement of traffic on each road subject to a single unified control.

Regulation of vehicular traffic over the highways of the United States involves a far more varied and complex undertaking. The highways of the country have been built by the states with substantial financial aid from the federal government in the construction of some of them.3 They are state owned, and, in general, are open

Page 605

in each state to use by privately owned and controlled motor vehicles of widely different character as respects weight, size, and equipment.4 The width, grades, curves, weight-bearing capacity, surfacing and overhead obstructions of the highways differ widely in the forty-eight different states and in different sections of each state. There are like variations with respect to congestion of traffic. State regulation, developed over a period of years, has been directed to the safe and convenient use of the highways and their conservation with reference to varying local needs and conditions.

Assumption of national control involved problems of peculiar difficulty and delicacy. Apart from regulations of interstate motor traffic having commercial aims and involving routes, schedules, rates and the like, any regulation on a national scale, whatever its extent, has an intimate and vital relation to the conservation of highways which belong to the states, and to their safe and convenient use by...

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