On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Burlington County.
Morton I. Greenberg, O'Brien and Gaynor. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Morton I. Greenberg, P.J.A.D.
[197 NJSuper Page 286] This matter comes on before this court on appeal from judgments of conviction in the Superior Court, Law Division, entered January 13, 1984. The Law Division judge heard the cases on appeals de novo from the Municipal Court of Lumberton Township, Burlington County. The appeal involves seven violations of N.J.S.A. 39:3-84.3, providing penalties for operators of trucks exceeding the axle weight limitations in N.J.S.A. 39:3-84(b). The overweight trucks were registered in Pennsylvania but not in New Jersey.
Because of their complexity we set forth or describe the germane statutes at the outset of the opinion. N.J.S.A. 39:3-84(b) establishes certain axle weight limitations which we need not detail. But the application of these limitations is specified in N.J.S.A. 39:3-84.1(a) which in material part now provides as follows:
The axle weight limitations as provided at R.S. 39:3-84b, shall apply to all vehicles registered in New Jersey subsequent to March 1, 1950, which have not been registered therein or contracted for purchase by New Jersey residents prior to that date. The weight limitations provided at R.S. 39:3-84b.(1); R.S. 39:3-84b.(2); and R.S. 39:3-84b.(3) relative to maximum gross axle weights shall not apply to vehicles registered as "constructor" or "solid waste" vehicles or to a combination of vehicles of which the "constructor" or "solid waste" vehicle is the drawing vehicle as provided at R.S. 39:3-20, except that said limitations shall apply to vehicles registered as "solid waste" when operated on any highway which is part of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, as provided at 23 U.S.C. § 103(e).
N.J.S.A. 39:3-20(c), referred to in N.J.S.A. 39:3-84.1(a), authorizes registration of solid waste vehicles provided their gross weights do not exceed certain specified limits. A person actually engaged in solid waste disposal or collection and holding a certificate of convenience and necessity for that purpose from the Board of Public Utilities may register a vehicle under N.J.S.A. 39:3-20(c). Nothing in N.J.S.A. 39:3-20(c) indicates whether registration under the section is limited to vehicles garaged in New Jersey.
Application of N.J.S.A. 39:3-84.1(a), N.J.S.A. 39:3-84(b) and N.J.S.A. 39:3-20(c) establishes the following pattern. The axle weight limitations are applicable to vehicles registered in New Jersey after March 1, 1950 unless contracted for by a New Jersey resident before that date. Solid waste vehicles registered under N.J.S.A. 39:3-20(c) are excepted from the axle weight limitations but the exception is inapplicable if the vehicle is operated on any highway which is part of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.*fn1
The complaints were consolidated for disposition in the municipal court. The municipal prosecutor represented the State. The State and defendants agreed no facts were in dispute and consequently the matter was presented on a stipulation of facts that the vehicles were traveling with the axle weights charged in the complaints, the weights exceeded the provisions provided in N.J.S.A. 39:3-84(b),*fn2 the trucks were properly registered in their home state, Pennsylvania, and ownership, operation and jurisdiction were unquestioned. The stipulation as to ownership, operation and jurisdiction was treated as meaning that defendants owned the vehicles on the dates set forth in the complaint and the vehicles were being operated in Lumberton Township in 1982 as charged. In the municipal court defendants contended as a matter of statutory construction that the axle weight limitations were inapplicable to their vehicles. They also asserted that application of the limitations to their vehicles would result in a violation of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, Art. I, § 8. The municipal judge in a written opinion held the limitations were applicable to defendants' vehicles. He ruled this application was a legitimate exercise of the police power only incidentally burdening interstate commerce. Consequently he found defendants guilty and imposed appropriate fines.*fn3
Defendants appealed to the Superior Court, Law Division, where the matter was heard de novo on the record. In the Law
Division the State was represented by the county prosecutor. Defendants argued in the Law Division that they were the victims of discrimination because they could not register the trucks in New Jersey under N.J.S.A. 39:3-20. Further they asserted that as a matter of construction N.J.S.A. 39:3-84.1 limited application of the axle weights to vehicles registered in New Jersey. The Law Division judge held that the axle weight limitations applied to foreign vehicles. He further ruled, citing South Carolina State Highway Dept. v. Barnwell Bros., 303 U.S. 177, 58 S. Ct. 510, 82 L. Ed. 734 (1938), that there was no Commerce Clause violation in this application for a state has the right to regulate use of its highways. Consequently he found defendants guilty and imposed the same fines as those assessed in the municipal court. Defendants have appealed from the Law Division judgment of conviction. The attorney general now represents the State.
The parties originally briefed the case in this court on the basis of the record in the trial courts. Defendants contended that their vehicles were not subject to the axle weight limitations because under N.J.S.A. 39:3-84.1 the Legislature had intended only to regulate the axle weights of vehicles registered in New Jersey. Defendants again urged that they were the victims of discrimination because, as they set forth in their brief, they are not ". . . even permitted to be so registered [in New Jersey] by reason of being vehicles garaged out-of-state." Thus in their view application of the weight limitations to them resulted in a Commerce Clause violation inasmuch as they could not benefit from the exception flowing from registration under N.J.S.A. 39:3-20(c). The attorney general urged in his brief that the axle weight limitations are applicable to all vehicles operated in this State and the exception in N.J.S.A. 39:3-84.1(a) for solid waste vehicles is applicable only to vehicles registered in New Jersey and does not establish a discriminatory system in violation of the Commerce Clause. The attorney general did not challenge defendants' assertion that the vehicles could not be registered in this State. [197 NJSuper Page 290] After hearing oral argument we determined that the record was inadequate for disposition of the constitutional question raised on this appeal. If defendants' assertion that they could not register their vehicles in New Jersey was correct we thought that the Commerce Clause question was substantial. The issue would be whether New Jersey had imposed an incidental burden on commerce by a statute evenhandedly regulating to effectuate a legitimate local public interest without excessively burdening commerce in relation to the putative local benefits or whether the State had engaged in simple economic protectionism. Compare Arkansas Elec. Coop. v. Arkansas Public Comm'n, 461 U.S. 375, 393-395, 103 S. Ct. 1905, 1917-1918, 76 L. Ed. 2d 1, 16-17 (1983), with Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 437 U.S. 617, 624, 98 S. Ct. 2531, 2535, 57 L. Ed. 2d 475, 481 (1978). See Coons v. American Honda Motor Co., 94 N.J. 307, 316-317 (1983).*fn4 If the Pennsylvania vehicles could not be registered, arguably there was a direct, discriminatory burden on interstate commerce. By registering its solid waste vehicle under N.J.S.A. 39:3-20(c) a New Jersey operator could use the vehicle on New Jersey highways, other than those which were part of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, without ...