United States v. State of Conn.

Decision Date13 June 1983
Docket NumberCiv. No. H-83-445.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, and R.A. Barnhart, Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration v. STATE OF CONNECTICUT, William A. O'Neill, in his official capacity as Governor of Connecticut, Joseph I. Lieberman, in his official capacity as Attorney General of Connecticut, Lester Forst, in his official capacities as Acting Commissioner of State Police of Connecticut and Commissioner of Public Safety of Connecticut, J. William Burns, in his official capacity as Commissioner of Transportation of Connecticut, Benjamin A. Muzio, in his official capacity as Commissioner of Motor Vehicles of Connecticut.

Mark C. Rutzick, Civ. Div., J. Paul McGrath, Asst. Atty. Gen., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., Alan H. Nevas, U.S. Atty., Albert S. Dabrowski, Asst. U.S. Atty., D. Conn., Hartford, Conn., David J. Anderson, Robert D. Nesler, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Kenneth N. Weinstein, Cleveland Thornton, U.S. Dept. of Transp., Washington, D.C., Donald L. Ivers, Chief Counsel, Federal Highway Admin., Washington, D.C., for plaintiffs.

Joseph I. Lieberman, Atty. Gen., Elliot F. Gerson, Deputy Atty. Gen., State of Conn., Arnold K. Shimelman, Susan T. Pearlman, Elena S. Boisvert, Katherine Mobley, Francis MacGregor, Kenneth Graham, MaryAnne Mulholland, Hartford, Conn., Phyllis E. Lemell, New Britain, Conn., Asst. Attys. Gen., Henry Cohn, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Neil G. Fishman, Staff Atty., Rochelle Homelson, Legal Asst., Kyle Ballou, Bernard David, Law Clerks, Hartford, Conn., for defendants.


JOSE A. CABRANES, District Judge:

The United States seeks a preliminary injunction barring enforcement by the defendant State of Connecticut of its recently enacted statute prohibiting so-called "tandem trailers" on Connecticut highways. In support of its motion, the United States asserts that Connecticut's statute is preempted by an act of Congress, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, 49 U.S.C. § 2301 et seq. In opposition to the United States' motion, Connecticut argues that there is no conflict between the Federal statute and at least some provisions of the State statute; that the Federal law is unconstitutional; and that regulations promulgated by the Federal Highway Administration pursuant to the Federal statute are illegal.

The court is mindful that this case has aroused public concern and controversy.1 It would, however, be misleading to characterize the constitutional and legal issues as difficult matters. The principles upon which the court must base its decision are as old as the Republic itself and deeply embedded in our history as a nation. For the reasons set forth below, the United States' motion must be granted.


In 1956, the United States Congress decided to authorize a nationwide system of highways to be constructed by the states but with the assistance of Federal funds. As that system has evolved over the years, different types of federally-funded highways have been established. Most federally-funded highways — including some referred to as the Primary System — have three-quarters of their cost funded by the Federal Government. One particular group of highways — the Interstate System — has ninety per cent of its cost supplied from the Federal fisc.

On January 6, 1983, Congress enacted the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 ("STAA"), 49 U.S.C. § 2301 et seq. Section 411(c) of the STAA, 49 U.S.C. § 2311(c), provides that states may not prohibit tandem trailers, defined as single truck tractors with two trailing units, from any part of the Interstate System or from parts of the Primary System designated by the Secretary of Transportation.2

On April 5, 1983, the Connecticut General Assembly enacted, and Connecticut Governor William A. O'Neill signed into law, Public Act No. 83-21, "An Act Concerning Tandem Trailer Trucks" ("the Connecticut statute"). Section 2 of the Connecticut statute prohibits tandem trailers from using highways in the State.3 Section 3 of the Connecticut statute sets forth various provisions designed to restrict the use of tandem trailers on highways in the State, in the event that a court of competent jurisdiction enjoins enforcement of Section 2.4

On May 27, 1983, the United States commenced this case by filing a Complaint, a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, and a Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction. The State of Connecticut filed its Answer on June 6, 1983 and its Memorandum in Opposition to Motion for Preliminary Injunction ("Connecticut Memorandum") on June 8, 1983. Also on June 8, 1983, the United States filed a Plaintiffs' Reply Memorandum in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction. A separate set of papers was filed by the parties in connection with the United States' Motion to Preclude Evidence (filed June 3, 1983), which the court denied by ruling filed June 8, 1983. Conferences with counsel were held in chambers (partly on the record) and in open court on May 31, 1983 and June 3, 1983, at which the court considered and acted upon various applications regarding pre-trial proceedings. On June 9, 1983, a day-long evidentiary hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction was held before the court, at which the State offered the testimony of nine witnesses on safety, legislative and regulatory issues.


Proper consideration of the motion for a preliminary injunction must begin with an understanding of what this case involves. Simply stated, the Congress of the United States enacted a statute, and thereafter the Connecticut General Assembly enacted another statute. The United States asserts that the latter statute conflicts with the former and is, accordingly, pre-empted. The United States also asserts that, even if there were no Federal legislation, the Connecticut statute would work an unconstitutional interference with interstate commerce.

Where Federal and state statutes conflict, the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, Art. VI, provides that the state statute must give way.5 A long history of law has established beyond the slightest doubt that Congress has pre-eminent authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, Art. I, § 8, to legislate where activities affecting interstate commerce are concerned, to pre-empt those state laws in conflict with congressional enactments, and to prohibit state regulations concerning activities having a substantial effect on interstate commerce even in the absence of any contradictory congressional enactments.6

In general, the power of Congress to preempt state legislation affecting interstate commerce is sweeping. In the case before this court, it is likely that the Connecticut statute, even in the absence of any congressional pre-emption, might have had an unconstitutional impact on interstate commerce.

Section 411(c) of the STAA specifically provides that no state shall prohibit tandem trailers from its highways. Thus, the STAA reveals an explicit congressional intention to pre-empt competing state legislation. Section 2 of the Connecticut statute, which announces a ban on tandem trailers in the State, does precisely what Section 411(c) of the STAA provided a state could not do. Section 3 of the Connecticut statute, slated to come into play if enforcement of Section 2 is enjoined, imposes various restrictions and regulations on those who would drive tandem trailers on state highways. Thus, Section 3 burdens the activity that the STAA clearly seeks to protect.7 Hence, Section 3 of the Connecticut statute also appears to be pre-empted.


In defense of its statute, the State of Connecticut has launched an attack that is ingenious and thorough, yet ultimately unavailing. Throughout the State's case, the argument is made that tandem trailers ought to be banned, one way or another, from Connecticut's highways.8 This court expresses no view on that question. It is not the function of this court in this case to second-guess a congressional determination.9 Where Congress acts pursuant to its authority under the Constitution and elects to pursue a certain course of action, those who disagree with Congress ordinarily must pursue their cause through political debate and action, not through litigation.10 Nothing in the present case presents an occasion for deviation from these settled principles of American constitutional law.


It does not advance Connecticut's cause to argue that the STAA was adopted without findings of fact or the hearing of testimony.11 Even if true, it does not follow that this or any other court sits to consider whether, in passing a particular bill, Congress deliberated with due care and reflection. Nor does it help Connecticut to argue that Congress failed to demonstrate how legislation concerning tandem trailers affected interstate commerce: that trucking involves interstate commerce is virtually a self-evident proposition.12


It is, of course, true that a court will not lightly assume that Congress meant to pre-empt state legislation.13 In this case, however, the words of Congress in § 411(c) of the STAA are explicit. There can be no question that pre-emption of state statutes barring tandem trailers was exactly what Congress sought to effect.

The State argues that Congress failed to specify what effect on interstate commerce it sought to achieve or why a requirement such as that contained in the STAA would help promote that effect.14 However, it is manifest that the STAA reflects a congressional interest in establishing uniform regulations governing the size, weight, and arrangements of trucks used in interstate commerce. In furtherance of that purpose, Congress adopted an approach neither irrational nor irrelevant. Nor, despite the State's argument, is it apparent that Congress need...

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