NY State Motor Truck Ass'n v. City of New York

Decision Date02 March 1987
Docket NumberNo. 86 Civ. 9118-CSH.,86 Civ. 9118-CSH.
PartiesNEW YORK STATE MOTOR TRUCK ASSOCIATION, INC.; Roadway Express, Inc.; Consolidated Freightways Corporation of Delaware; Yellow Freight System, Inc.; United Parcel Service of America, Inc.; ABF Freight System, Inc.; Carolina Freight Carriers Corp.; Affidavit of and A-P-A Transport Corp., Plaintiffs, v. The CITY OF NEW YORK; Edward I. Koch, in his capacity as Mayor of the City of New York; Ross Sandler, in his capacity as Commissioner of the Transportation Department of the City of New York; and, Benjamin Ward, in his capacity as Commissioner of the Police Department of the City of New York, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York


Frederick A.O. Schwarz, Jr., Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York City, for defendants; David Drueding, Grace Goodman, Susan Kath, of counsel.

Richard K. Willard, Asst. Atty. Gen., Robert J. Cynkar, Deputy Asst. Atty. Gen., Dennis G. Linder, Director, Civ. Div., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., Kenneth N. Weinstein, Deputy Asst. Gen. Counsel for Litigation, U.S. Dept. of Transp., Washington, D.C., for amicus curiae U.S. Dept. of Transp.; Anthony J. McMahon, Chief Counsel, David C. Oliver, Deputy Asst. Chief Counsel, Federal Highway Admin., Washington, D.C., of counsel.

Bishop, Liberman, Cook, Purcell & Reynolds, New York City (Mark L. Davidson, Martin S. Siegel, of counsel), Bishop, Liberman, Cook, Purcell & Reynolds, Washington, D.C. (John C. Kirtland, Thomas M. Keeling, of counsel), for plaintiffs.

HAIGHT, District Judge:

This action arises out of the federal statutory scheme controlling use of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. The pertinent statute is the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 ("STAA"), as amended by the Tandem Truck Safety Act of 1984 ("TTSA"), 49 U.S.C. § 2301 et seq.

Plaintiffs are seven individual motor common carriers and their State Association. Defendants are the City of New York and, sued in their official capacities, the Mayor, the Commissioner of the City Transportation Department, and the Commissioner of Police (hereinafter sometimes collectively referred to as "the City.")

Plaintiffs move for a preliminary injunction enjoining the implementation and enforcement of the provisions of revised Article 19 of the City's Traffic Rules and Regulations. The parties agree that the threshold issues of statutory interpretation and regulatory authority present questions of law requiring no evidentiary hearing.

The parties have ably briefed and argued the issues. At the request of the Court, the federal Secretary of Transportation (the "Secretary") submitted through the Department of Justice a brief amicus curiae supporting defendants and arguing against preliminary injunctive relief.

Defendants agreed to defer enforcement of the challenged regulations to permit this Court's careful consideration of the arguments and briefs. For that courtesy I express my thanks.

A preliminary injunction was entered on February 27, 1987, granting the relief prayed for by plaintiffs. This opinion sets forth the Court's reasons.


No American who owns a car is unfamiliar with the federally funded Interstate highway system. That system spans the nation, north to south, east to west. Its concrete passageways traverse fields and valleys, cross mountains, and, as the case at bar demonstrates, run through cities.

Acting pursuant to its constitutional power to regulate commerce among the states,1 Congress has on occasion enacted laws that directly affect use of this national network of highways. The STAA is one such statute, enacted in 1982 in response to congressional concern over conflicting state laws regarding the use of the national highway system by some commercial trucks.

In United States v. Connecticut, 566 F.Supp. 571 (D.Conn.), aff'd mem., 742 F.2d 1443 (2d Cir.1983), aff'd mem., 465 U.S. 1014, 104 S.Ct. 1263, 79 L.Ed.2d 670 (1984), Judge Cabranes authored a useful discussion of the STAA's purpose. He observed that in 1956 Congress authorized a nationwide system of highways to be constructed by the states with the assistance of federal funds. One particular group of highways — the Interstate system or "Interstates" — is ninety percent funded by the federal government. 566 F.Supp. at 572. The Interstates, together with other "Federal-aid Primary Highways," form the "national highway system." The STAA, in Judge Cabranes's words, "reflects a congressional interest in establishing uniform regulations governing the size, weight, and arrangements of trucks used in interstate commerce." Id. at 576.

A primary means of achieving regulatory uniformity in the STAA lay in its provisions preempting state regulation. Indeed, Judge Cabranes held in United States v. Connecticut that a Connecticut statute purporting to ban or regulate vehicles of a size approved by the STAA for use of Interstate highways was preempted by that federal statute, and was accordingly unenforceable.

The STAA's preemption provisions take two basic forms. One preempts state limitations on the size of vehicles that can use the Interstate system. The other preempts state restrictions on federally approved vehicles' use of or access to the Interstate system.

As to state limitations on vehicle size, the STAA as enacted in 1982 provided in pertinent part:

"Sec. 411.(a) No State shall establish, maintain, or enforce any regulation of commerce which imposes a vehicle length limitation of less than forty-eight feet on the length of the semitrailer unit operating in a truck tractor-semitrailer combination, and of less than twenty-eight feet on the length of any semitrailer or trailer operating in a truck tractor-semitrailer-trailer combination, on any segment of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and those classes of qualifying Federal-aid Primary System highways as designated by the Secretary, pursuant to subsection (e) of this section.
"(b) Length limitations established, maintained, or enforced by the States under subsection (a) of this section shall apply solely to the semitrailer or trailer or trailers and not to a truck tractor. No State shall establish, maintain, or enforce any regulation of commerce which imposes an overall length limitation on commercial motor vehicles operating in truck-tractor semitrailer or truck tractor semitrailer, trailer combinations."

As to state restrictions on use of and access to the Interstate system, the STAA provided:

"(c) No State shall prohibit commercial motor vehicle combinations consisting of a truck tractor and two trailing units on any segment of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, and those classes of qualifying Federal-aid Primary System highways as designated by the Secretary pursuant to subsection (e) of this section."

This language was interpreted by Judge Cabranes in United States v. Connecticut, supra, as providing that "states may not prohibit tandem trailers, defined as single truck tractors with two trailing units, from any part of the Interstate System," 566 F.Supp. at 573. "Tandems" or "tandem trailers" are the sort of vehicles plaintiffs use, and which, as will be seen, the defendant City's new regulations particularly seek to restrict. I shall hereafter refer to such vehicular arrangements as "tandems."

In addition, the STAA provided:

"Sec. 412. No State may enact or enforce any law denying reasonable access to commercial motor vehicles subject to this title between (1) the Interstate and Defense Highway System and any other qualifying Federal-aid Primary System highways, as designated by the Secretary, and (2) terminals, facilities for food, fuel, repairs, and rest, and points of loading and unloading for household goods carriers."

Defendants in this case, unlike those in the Connecticut case, do not challenge the constitutionality of these provisions of the STAA, which are clearly within the scope of congressional authority. As Judge Cabranes stated in upholding the constitutionality of these provisions:

"To hold that Congress acted within its authority under the Commerce Clause, all that this court need determine is that Congress acted with respect to an activity affecting interstate commerce and that the action it took was indeed reasonably related to the regulation of that commerce."

Id. at 576, citing Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, 379 U.S. 241, 261, 85 S.Ct. 348, 359, 13 L.Ed.2d 258 (1964).

It is readily apparent that in enacting the quoted provisions of the STAA, Congress intended explicitly to preempt state regulations of STAA vehicles that conflict with the provisions and purposes of the statute. Congressional power to do so is clear and unchallenged in this case.2 The central issue is how far Congress intended its preemption of state regulations to operate. To pursue that inquiry an examination of subsequent congressional action is instructive.


The TTSA, passed in October 1984 to address problems Congress perceived in the STAA, had its genesis in the concern of two New York legislators. S.2217 was introduced by Senator Moynihan. The accompanying House bill, H.R. 5568, was introduced by then Congresswoman Ferraro. The expressed concern was that certain portions of the Interstate highway system running through New York City, constructed in earlier years and subsequently designated as part of the national system by the federal government, might not be safe for tandem trailers of the size permitted by the STAA. However, because the STAA contained no provision for the exemption of unsafe segments of Interstates from the preemption provisions of the statute, states had no option but to allow tandems access to these segments. Ms. Ferraro, appearing before the Senate subcommittee, pointed out that a number of Interstate highways passed through cities, giving rise to safety problems, but that "under the present law STAA, States cannot...

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