On appeal from the Middlesex County Court.
For reversal -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Case, Heher, Oliphant and Burling. For affirmance -- Justice Wachenfeld. The opinion of the court was delivered by Heher, J.
The respondent Garford Trucking, Inc., was convicted in the Municipal Court of the Township of Woodbridge on a complaint charging the operation of an unregistered motor vehicle on a public highway of the Township on February 14, 1949, in disregard of R.S. 39:3-4. The Middlesex County Court reversed the judgment on appeal; and the State's appeal from the judgment of reversal to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court was certified here on our own motion.
Under R.S. 39:3-15, a motor vehicle "belonging to a nonresident," registered in accordance with the laws of the state or sovereignty "in which the nonresident resides," is in certain
circumstances immune from the obligation of registration under R.S. 39:3-4; and the question for decision is whether the operation of the vehicle made the subject of this prosecution comes within the exempt category.
These are the circumstances, briefly told: Garford is a body corporate organized and existing under the laws of New Jersey, "having its principal office, or place of business," in South River, Middlesex County, New Jersey. It is a common carrier in interstate commerce. It "operates in twelve different states along the Eastern Seaboard" and, "as permitted by its charter, * * * has become licensed to do business in those states, including the State of Rhode Island." It "maintains" in each state "a terminal, personnel, offices, facilities and equipment, including a number of trucks, tractors, and trailers." The vehicles "are based and serviced in those states, licensed there, and they remain there except when the individual vehicles are engaged in interstate commerce." The operation made the subject of the complaint involved a motor vehicle owned by the corporation "and based in the State of Rhode Island." The vehicle was then "being operated by one of" the Company's "employees through the State of New Jersey, its destination being Baltimore, Maryland;" and it "was not to unload any part of its cargo in New Jersey, nor to take on any additional cargo in this State." While on this mission, the summons in this proceeding was served.
Recognizing the question to be one of statutory construction, the County Judge was of the view that the cited statutes do not have reference "to the actual domicile of the owner, regardless of the situs of the vehicles;" that "for the purposes of motor vehicle registration the term 'residence' is still inextricably bound to the situs of the vehicle;" that in determining whether a New Jersey corporation is a "resident" of the State "for the purposes of motor vehicle registration, * * * the test to be applied is still the bona fide situs of the vehicles sought to be registered;" and that if the vehicles of a domestic corporation "are in good faith geographically based and located in a sister State, as in the present case, then this
corporation for purposes of registration of those particular vehicles is a non-resident" and "they need only be registered in the sister State to be accorded highway privileges in New Jersey for such period of time as the said sister State would reciprocally allow New Jersey vehicles similar privileges." It was considered that the interpretation contra would impose a "penalty" on New Jersey corporations where the vehicle had "a bona fide situs " in another state and was "required by local law to be registered," and would constitute "discrimination against the citizens of New Jersey" at variance with the legislative intention. But there is no such expression in the statute. Considerations of policy alien to its letter and spirit were allowed to control the meaning.
Except as provided otherwise in the article, R.S. 39:3-4 lays the obligation of registration upon "every resident of this State and every nonresident whose automobile or motor cycle shall be driven in this state." The exemption of R.S. 39:3-15 applies only to a motor vehicle "belonging to a nonresident" registered under the laws of the state or other jurisdiction "in which the nonresident resides," and which has its registration number "conspicuously displayed thereon." The immunity is conditioned upon reciprocity: it exists only "during such portion of the entire year as the free operation of a similar type of vehicle belonging to a resident of this State," and registered in compliance with its laws, is permissible in the state or sovereignty "of the nonresident."
Garford is not a "nonresident" of New Jersey; it is domiciled and resident here. A corporation created and existing under the laws of New Jersey may have a "commercial domicile" or "business situs " elsewhere for taxation and other purposes; but it is nonetheless domiciled and resident in the state of its creation, for a corporation is domiciled in the state or sovereignty under which it has its being, and there also it has the residence which is inseparable from domicile. A corporation lives and dwells in the ...