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American Trucking Associations v. Whitman


March 22, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cooper, District Judge



This matter presents motions for partial summary judgment by both parties. We will deny the motions and develop a full evidentiary record before ruling further on the merits.


On or about July 16, 1999, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (the "Department") enacted "emergency regulations," which applied to certain commercial vehicles categorized as double-trailer truck combinations and 102-inch wide standard truck semi-trailers ("Restricted Vehicles"). Those regulations addressed the use of certain roads by Restricted Vehicles while traveling in the State of New Jersey (the "State"). (See Certification of Andrea B. Schwartz filed 10-16-00) ("Schwartz Certif.") Ex. A: Emergency Adoptions.) The emergency regulations were adopted as final regulations (the "Regulations") on August 2, 1999. *fn1 (Pl. Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ("Pl. Br.") at 9; Schwartz Certif. Ex. D: Final Regulations.) Under the Regulations, Restricted Vehicles traveling through the State with neither an origin nor a destination in the State, must stay on "National Network" roads and may deviate onto other roads only to access terminals and for limited distances to get food, fuel, repairs, and rest. *fn2 N.J.A.C. 16:32-1.6. Restricted Vehicles with origins or destinations in the State are permitted to use local roads in addition to the National Network roads. Id. The stated purpose of the Regulations is to reduce the volume of large trucks on the non-National Network highways in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of New Jersey residents. (Def. Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ("Def. Br.") at 1, 6; Schwartz Certif. Ex. D: Final Regulations at 16:32-1.1.)

Plaintiffs, who allege that the Regulations are unconstitutional, are the American Trucking Associations, Inc. (the "ATA") and US Xpress, Inc. ("USX"). The ATA is a national trucking trade association representing more than 2,000 members including corporations, partnerships, and individual proprietorships. (Pl. Br. at 1.) The ATA, a non-profit District of Columbia corporation headquartered in Virginia, claims to be suing on behalf of its members. (Certif. of David Barefoot filed 10-16-00) ("Barefoot Certif.") ¶ 2.) USX, a Nevada corporation, is an interstate motor carrier based in Tennessee. (Certif. of Steven Cleary filed 10-16-00 ("Cleary Certif.") ¶ 2.) Both the ATA members and USX regularly engage in interstate commerce in New Jersey, often using Restricted Vehicles. (Pl. Br. at 2.)

Plaintiffs seek partial summary judgment directed to the first four counts of the Complaint respectively alleging that the regulations violate the Commerce Clause (Counts I and II), the Privileges and Immunities Clause (Count III), and the Equal Protection Clause (Count IV) of the United States Constitution. (Pl. Mot. for Partial Summ. J. filed 10-16-00.) Defendants oppose the motion and move for summary judgment on the same counts. (Def. Mot. for Partial Summ. J. filed 10- 16-00.)


I. Summary Judgment Standard

A motion for summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the evidence submitted must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Seitzinger v. Reading Hosp. & Med. Ctr., 165 F.3d 236, 238 (3d Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

Once the moving party has met its initial burden, the nonmoving party must establish that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Lacey Township, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir. 1985). The nonmoving party may not rely on mere allegations; it must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986) (citing First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 290 (1968)); Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorp., 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990). Issues of fact are genuine only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Material facts are only those facts that might affect the outcome of the action under governing law. Id.; Boyd v. Ford Motor Co., 948 F.2d 283, 285 (6th Cir. 1991). When the resolution of issues depends entirely on the interpretation of the applicable law, summary judgment is appropriate. See DiBiase v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 48 F.3d 719, 724 (3d Cir. 1995).

II. The Commerce Clause

The United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall have Power . . . to regulate Commerce . . . among the several States." U.S. Const. art. I § 8. The Commerce Clause has been construed to include an "implied limitation on the power of the States to interfere with or impose burdens on interstate commerce." W. & S. Life Ins. Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization of Cal., 451 U.S. 648, 652 (1981). This implied limitation, known as the negative or dormant Commerce Clause, "`prohibits economic protectionism - that is, regulatory measures designed to benefit in-state economic interests by burdening out-of- state economic competitors.'" Tolchin v. Supreme Court of N.J., 111 F.3d 1099, 1106 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting New Energy Co. of Ind. v. Limbach, 486 U.S. 269, 273 (1988).

The first question a court must ask in performing a commerce clause analysis is whether the regulation at issue discriminates against interstate commerce. See Old Coach Dev. Corp. v. Tanzman, 881 F.2d 1227, 1231 (3d Cir. 1989). As articulated by the Third Circuit, "[d]iscrimination against interstate commerce entails imposing a burden on out-of-state vehicles or favoring those from in-state without a comparable favor for those from out-of-state." Larson, 683 F.2d at 799. Discrimination on the basis of citizenship is not the only object of the Commerce Clause, however.

The Supreme Court has found discrimination where state regulation has an impact on interstate goods themselves, such as when the state regulation blocks the flow of articles in interstate commerce at a state's borders. See Sporhase v. Nebraska ex rel. Douglas, 458 U.S. 941, 102 S.Ct. 3456, 73 L.Ed.2d 1254 (1982) (invalidating Nebraska statute limiting the use of Nebraska ground water in adjoining states); Hughes v. Oklahoma, 441 U.S. 322, 99 S.Ct. 1727, 60 L.Ed.2d 250 (1979) (invalidating Oklahoma statute prohibiting the exportation of minnows for sale); Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 437 U.S. 617, 98 S.Ct. 2531, 57 L.Ed.2d 475 (1978) (invalidating New Jersey statute restricting importation of waste into the state). Old Coach, 881 F.2d at 1231, 32 (finding regulatory scheme that imposes costs on interstate land transactions which are not imposed on intrastate land transactions regardless of citizenship of seller impermissibly discriminates).

Thus, a court may find discrimination against interstate commerce, even if the relevant statute applies evenhandedly. Id. (citing Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333, 350-52, (1977) (North Carolina law prohibiting the marketing of apples in boxes bearing gradings other than federally established ones impermissibly restricted flow of Washington apples bearing state gradings into North Carolina)).

When a state statute or regulation discriminates on its face or operates in effect to favor in-state economic interests over out-of- state interests, a heavy burden is imposed on the defender of the legislation to "demonstrate both that the statute `serves a legitimate local purpose,' and that this purpose could not be served as well by available nondiscriminatory means." Id. (quoting Maine v. Taylor, 477 U.S. 131, 138 (1986); Brown-Forman Distillers Corp. v. N.Y. State Liquor Auth., 476 U.S. 573, 579 (1986). See Tolchin, 111 F.3d at 1107 ("Brown- Forman makes clear that a heightened scrutiny applies not only when legislation is facially discriminatory, but also when a state statute or regulation's `effect is to favor in-state economic interests over out- of-state interests. . .'.") Thus, a regulation faces a heightened scrutiny standard if it is driven by a discriminatory purpose or if it has a discriminatory effect. Brown-Forman, 476 U.S. at 579; Old Coach, 881 F.2d at 1231, Norfolk S. Corp. v. Oberly, 822 F.2d 388, 398-401 (3d Cir. 1987).

When a state regulation is not discriminatory, or its effect on interstate commerce is incidental, the Court evaluates it pursuant to a balancing test and the regulation will be upheld unless the burdens on interstate commerce are clearly excessive in relation to the putative local benefits. See Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U.S. 137 (1970); Old Coach, 881 F.2d at 1231.

A. Highway Safety Regulations

Some confusion exists as to the proper standard to apply when analyzing the constitutionality of highway safety regulations under the Commerce Clause. State regulation in the field of highway safety traditionally is accorded great deference and the Supreme Court often has articulated its reluctance to invalidate such statutes. See Kassel v. Consol. Freightways Corp. of Del., 450 U.S. 662, 669 (1981); Raymond Motor Transp., Inc. v. Rice, 434 U.S. 429, 442-43 (1978) ("[i]n no field has this deference to state regulation been greater than that of highway safety regulation"); Bradley v. Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 289 U.S. 92 (1933) (upholding state's refusal to license interstate carriers over certain highways due to traffic congestion). A strong presumption of validity is given to highway safety regulations that do not discriminate on their face or in effect. See Raymond, 434 U.S. at 443-44. Challengers may overcome the presumption by showing that the purported safety benefits are slight, problematic, or illusory. Larson, 683 F.2d at 793, 795. Absent such a showing, the court should uphold uniform safety statutes. Id.

In the major Commerce Clause cases involving such statutes, the Supreme Court has been openly split on the proper analysis. See, e.g., Kassel, 450 U.S. at 662 (plurality opinion with some justices favoring and some rejecting balancing approach); Raymond, 434 U.S. at 429 (articulating balancing approach). The Third Circuit directly confronted the existence of competing standards in American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Larson, 683 F.2d 787 (3d Cir. 1982). Following the Supreme Court's reluctance to invalidate state regulation in the field of safety, the Third Circuit chose to apply the highly deferential standard, articulated by then-Justice Rehnquist in his Kassel dissent, for those cases involving nondiscriminatory highway safety regulations. Id.; Northfolk S. Corp. v. Oberly, 822 F.2d 388, 405 (3d Cir. 1987). The Third Circuit expressly rejected a balancing approach in the area of safety, believing a highly deferential standard to be more appropriate. Id. at 795. As a district court sitting in the Third Circuit, we are bound to accord uniform highway regulations such deference.

The highly-deferential standard accorded to state highway regulation applies only when the regulation is both facially neutral and neutral in effect. See Kassel, 450 U.S. at 675-76; Larson, 683 F.2d at 795 (finding deferential standard similar to rational basis should apply for evaluating nondiscriminatory state regulations in the field of highway safety) (emphasis added); Norfolk, 822 F. 2d at 405 ("This court has applied a highly deferential standard in cases involving evenhanded highway safety regulations that do not create uniformity problems.") (citing Larson, 683 F.2d at 795 (emphasis added)). As the Court explained in Kassel,

This traditional deference "derives in part from the assumption that where such regulations do not discriminate on their face against interstate commerce, their burden usually falls on local economic interests as well as other States' economic interests, thus insuring that a State's own political processes will serve as a check against unduly burdensome regulations." . . . Less deference to the legislative judgment is due, however, where the local regulation bears disproportionately on out-of-state residents and businesses. 450 U.S. at 675-76 (quoting Raymond, 434 U.S. at 444 n.18).

The Third Circuit followed suit stating, "As long as the statute does not on its face or in fact discriminate against out-of-state interests or in favor of in-state interests, there is ample protection from such legislation in the democratic process itself." Larson, 683 F.2d at 795. The democratic process does not similarly protect against discriminatory legislation. Thus, when a regulation relating to highway safety discriminates on its face or in effect, the deferential standard does not apply and the regulation is subject to the same heightened scrutiny as any other discriminatory regulation.

To summarize, the Third Circuit standard with regard to highway safety regulation is as follows: for a regulation that does not discriminate on its face or in effect against out-of-state interests, a court is to accord the lawmakers great deference and uphold the statute absent a showing that the purported safety benefits are slight, illusory, or problematic. A safety regulation that is discriminatory on its face or in effect, is examined under a heightened scrutiny and is struck down unless the proponent demonstrates that the law serves a legitimate local purpose, and that this purpose could not be served as well by available nondiscriminatory means.

B. The Regulations

Plaintiffs contend that the Regulations violate the Commerce Clause because they unfairly discriminate against out-of-state truckers in favor of local interests on their face, in their purpose, and in their effect. (Pl. Br. 15-30.)

Defendants counter that the regulations do not provide an economic advantage to New Jersey truckers but apply uniformly to all Restricted Vehicles regardless of where they are from, where they are registered, whether or not the drivers live in New Jersey, or whether they are engaged in interstate commerce. (Def. Br. at 12, 13.) Defendants further contend that requiring through-state drivers to remain on the National Network roads does not place an undue burden on interstate commerce; any minor "inconveniences" demonstrated, such as increased tolls, are far outweighed by the benefits of increased safety from reducing large truck traffic on congested local roads. (Id. at 15-19.)

Our first step is to decide whether the Regulations discriminate against interstate commerce. We find that the Regulations do not discriminate on their face. While the Regulations make a distinction between trucks with and without an origin or destination in New Jersey, on their face, the Regulations apply evenhandedly without regard to citizenship of the truck driver or owner. They restrict local road access based on the existence of an origin or destination in the state; this restriction applies with equal force to all truck drivers. The restriction on its face is a neutral one.

This finding does not end our inquiry with regard to the Regulations' discriminatory nature. A state regulation also discriminates when its "effect is to favor in-state economic interests over out-of-state interests." Brown-Forman, 476 U.S. at 579. Plaintiffs allege that the Regulations will "potentially cost the trucking industry, and ultimately the national economy, millions of dollars annually." (Pl. Br. at 26.) They argue the burden comes in the form of increased toll costs, fuel consumption, and time needed to reach destinations. (Id. at 25-28.) They argue that the restrictions result in through-state truckers being unable to take alternative routes to avoid traffic congestion, construction, accidents, or weather-related problems. They claim that not being able to take "short cuts" results in an increase in miles driven. (Pl. Br. at 25.) Extra miles on the road, they assert, increases the likelihood of accidents. (Id. at 28.) Further, taking longer for some trucks to reach their destinations could result in loss of business to competitors who can deliver goods more quickly. (Id. at 26-27.) According to plaintiffs, these possibilities comprise a burden on through-state trucking that New Jersey-based trucking does not face.

We need to examine these factors when a record is more fully developed to decide if the Regulations impose actual increases in time and expense on interstate truckers. Evidence of a significant expense to out-of-state trucking not suffered by in-state trucking would demonstrate that the Regulations discriminate in their effect against out-of-state interests. *fn3 To make this determination on the facts currently before us would be premature. The principal commerce clause cases involving highway safety regulation were all decided only after the development of extensive evidentiary records. See, e.g., Kassel, 450 U.S. 662 (district court below heard evidence on safety and burden on commerce during fourteen-day trial); Raymond, 434 U.S. 429 (extensive evidence including expert testimony presented to three-judge district court below before decision); Bibb, 359 U.S. 520 (three-judge district court below conducted two-day hearing); Larson, 683 F.2d 787 (district court below conducted hearings before issuing preliminary injunction and again before deciding case on merits). Accordingly, we will deny summary judgment at this time so that a full evidentiary record may be developed.

Development of the factual record will also assist us in applying the proper standard for evaluating the Regulations. Assuming arguendo we ultimately find the Regulations discriminate in effect against interstate commerce, more facts will be required to apply the heightened scrutiny standard. Under this standard, we would uphold the Regulations only if the defendants were to demonstrate that no alternative, nondiscriminatory means exist to accomplish their legitimate local purpose.

The Regulations were purportedly enacted to "help ensure the safety and well-being of the people who use [New Jersey] roadways" by "limiting interstate through travel of large trucks" to certain roads. (Def. Br. at 1, 6; Schwartz Certif. Ex. D: Final Regulations at 16:32-1.1.) The state's aim is to reduce accidents and motorist deaths from truck-related collisions by reducing the number of large trucks on local roads which are mostly "two and four-lane, undivided streets, some lined with commercial establishments and homes, and others remote, winding roads in rural areas." (Def. Br. at 2, 5.) The Supreme Court has found that regulating interstate vehicular traffic to limit the volume of traffic on certain roads is a legitimate means of promoting public safety. Bradley 289 U.S. 92. But see Kassel, 450 U.S. 662 (rejecting as unconstitutional a highway regulation whose only apparent safety benefit was to reduce overall truck traffic on state highways by forcing large trucks to detour around the state).

We find that ensuring the health and safety of its residents is a legitimate objective of the State. While plaintiffs argue that the Regulations were created with protectionist intent, based on the evidence so far, it appears that the Regulations do serve a legitimate local purpose, and would satisfy the first prong of the heightened scrutiny analysis. *fn4 However, at the hearing plaintiffs may submit evidence of discriminatory purpose to support their argument that the Regulations are essentially protectionist in nature. *fn5

A significant issue remains as to whether the state has proven that it lacks an alternative, non-discriminatory means for achieving its purported purpose. If we ultimately find the Regulations are discriminatory, defendants will have the burden of proving that such alternative means are not viable. The viability of other possible means is a factual issue about which we have not seen much evidence. Therefore, assuming we need to make a determination regarding alternative means, evidence will be taken to that end.

Assuming, on the other hand, that we find the Regulations are not discriminatory, we will apply the highly deferential standard of review favored by the Third Circuit, and uphold the regulations absent a showing that the safety benefits are slight, problematic or illusory. Factual issues exist as to the extent of the Regulations' overall safety benefits.

Given that genuine issues of material fact exist as to the threshold issue of whether the Regulations discriminate against interstate commerce, as well as to the Regulations' purpose, the existence of nondiscriminatory alternative means, and the nature of the purported safety benefits, we find a final decision at this stage would be inappropriate. Accordingly, we will deny both motions for partial summary judgment.

III. Privileges and Immunities and Equal Protection Clauses

The parties have also called for summary judgment on plaintiffs' claims that the Regulations violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. An analysis of the Regulations under either of these clauses is similar to the Commerce Clause analysis set out above. In view of our decision to deny summary judgment on plaintiffs' Commerce Clause claims, it is not necessary to discuss alternative bases for our decision. The parties may renew these alternative arguments at the hearing if desired.

An appropriate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.

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