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American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Whitman

February 21, 2006

AMERICAN TRUCKING ASSOCIATIONS, INC. AND US XPRESS, INC.,
v.
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY; JAMES WEINSTEIN, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; COL. CARSON DUNBAR, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE SUPERINTENDENT OF THE NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE; JOHN J. FARMER, JR., IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, APPELLANTS



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. No. 00-489) District Judge: Honorable Stanley R. Chesler.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued September 26, 2005

Before: RENDELL, FUENTES, and GARTH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

In 1999, in response to the threat to health and safety posed by large trucks on local roads, the New Jersey Department of Transportation adopted emergency highway safety regulations (the "Regulations") designed to detour some of those trucks away from local roads and congested areas. The Regulations require double-trailer truck combinations and 102-inch-wide tractor trailers (collectively, "restricted vehicles") traveling through New Jersey, with neither an origin nor a destination in the state, to use the national network of interstate highways (the "National Network")*fn1 rather than New Jersey state highways and local roads (the "New Jersey Network"). This case requires us to determine whether the Regulations discriminate against interstate commerce in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause. Because the Regulations favor instate businesses over those out-of-state businesses that are neither buying nor selling goods in New Jersey by imposing economic burdens on the out-of-state interests while not imposing similar burdens on the instate interests, we hold that the Regulations discriminate against interstate commerce. Furthermore, as there exist available nondiscriminatory alternatives, we hold that the Regulations violate the dormant Commerce Clause. We accordingly affirm the judgment of the District Court.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

In the 1980s, in response to the trucking industry's desire to use 102-inch wide trucks and double-trailer truck combinations, the federal government required states to establish the National Network, a connected network of interstate highways to permit interstate travel by these vehicles. New Jersey complied with this directive, resulting in 545.7 miles of roads in New Jersey that contribute to the National Network.

Years later, in response to the threat to health and highway safety posed by large trucks on local roads, the New Jersey Department of Transportation adopted the Regulations, which were designed to reroute large trucks onto the National Network. The Regulations require restricted vehicles that do not have an origin or destination in New Jersey to use the National Network while in New Jersey, except as necessary to access food, rest, repairs, and fuel. N.J. Admin. Code § 16:32-1.1 (1999). However, restricted vehicles engaged in purely intrastate commerce or in interstate commerce that includes an origin or destination in New Jersey are able to use both the National Network and the New Jersey Network. N.J. Admin. Code § 16:32-1.4. The New Jersey Network consists of roadways secondary to the National Network that often snake through populated areas and are heavy with noncommercial traffic. N.J. Admin. Code §16:32-1.5(a) (1999). Penalties for violating the Regulations include a mandatory fine of no more than $400 for the first violation, a mandatory fine of $700 for the second violation, and a mandatory fine of $1000 for each subsequent violation.

Soon after the adoption of the Regulations, plaintiffs American Trucking Associations, Inc. ("American Trucking") and US Xpress filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey alleging that the Regulations violate the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. U.S. Const. art. I, § 8 cl. 3. American Trucking is a non-profit national trucking trade association suing on behalf of its members. US Xpress, a Nevada corporation, is an interstate motor carrier based in Tennessee. The defendants are former New Jersey officials that the plaintiffs sued in their official capacities.

The plaintiffs sought an order declaring the Regulations unconstitutional and an order enjoining the defendants (the "state officials") from enforcing the Regulations. After a period of discovery, both parties filed motions for summary judgment, which the District Court denied. The judge hearing the motions determined that the Regulations are not facially discriminatory because, although "the Regulations [distinguish] between trucks with and without an origin or destination in New Jersey," they are applied "with equal force to all truck drivers." Am. Trucking Ass'ns, Inc. v. Whitman, 136 F. Supp. 2d 343, 350 (D.N.J. 2001). Though the District Court concluded that the Regulations are not facially discriminatory, it denied summary judgment because an evidentiary record was needed to determine whether the Regulations impose costs and delays on out-of-state trucking. According to the District Court, "[e]vidence 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." Id. at 351.

In September 2003, the parties commenced a five-day bench trial before a different judge. During the trial, Dr. Lazar Spasovic, testifying for the state officials, stated that, despite a New Jersey Department of Transportation study demonstrating that the Regulations would force many interstate trucks to take longer and costlier routes when required to use the National Network rather than the New Jersey Network, the Regulations would not adversely affect interstate commerce. Spasovic based this conclusion on a theory that some truck drivers were using the New Jersey Network only to avoid tolls, even when that choice involved higher aggregate costs of time and fuel for those trucks. According to Spasovic, those interstate trucks would save money by using the National Network, and those savings would outweigh the additional costs the Regulations cause other interstate trucks; thus the Regulations would have a net positive impact.

The state officials also argued that, even if the Regulations were discriminatory, they do not violate the dormant Commerce Clause because there are no available non-discriminatory means with which to achieve the legitimate goal of decreasing truck traffic on local roads. Assistant Commissioner and State Planning Engineer Dennis Keck testified that a non-discriminatory statute that prohibited all restricted vehicles from using the New Jersey Network, except as necessary to reach New Jersey origins or destinations or for food, rest, repairs, and fuel, would be nearly impossible to enforce. Keck testified that such a statute would require law enforcement officials to stop trucks on the New Jersey Network randomly to ensure compliance with the statute, and to perform complex calculations to discern whether the trucks needed to be at that point on the New Jersey Network to reach a New Jersey destination or to reach the National Network from a New Jersey origin.

At the conclusion of the trial, the District Court held that the Regulations violate the dormant Commerce Clause and accordingly enjoined the state officials from enforcing them. Am. Trucking Ass'ns, Inc. v. Whitman, No. 00-CV-489, 2004 WL 601659, at *11 (D.N.J. Mar. 24, 2004). The District Court found that Spasovic's conclusion was based on the unreasonable assumption that truck drivers were acting against their economic interest. Id. at *5-6. In other words, the District Court did not accept Spasovic's assertion that interstate truck drivers were using the New Jersey Network to avoid paying tolls even though those truck drivers paid more in fuel and increased travel time by taking local road detours. The District Court therefore rejected Spasovic's conclusion that the Regulations would result in a net positive economic impact by correcting the irrational behavior of many interstate truck drivers. Id. at *6. Moreover, the District Court found that, regardless of whether the Regulations provide a net positive economic impact, the evidence showed that the Regulations force many truckers to engage in conduct counter to their economic interests. Id. The District Court concluded that the Regulations are discriminatory in effect. Id. at *9-10.

Additionally, the District Court found that, although the Regulations advance the legitimate local purpose of improving highway safety, there are available non-discriminatory means to accomplish that goal. Id. at *10-11. Specifically, the District Court noted that the state officials could accomplish the same legitimate local purpose by prohibiting all restricted vehicles from using the New Jersey Network except as necessary to: 1) reach a New Jersey destination from the National Network; 2) reach the National Network from a New Jersey origin; or 3) access food, rest, fuel, or repairs. Id. at *11 n.11. Because a non-discriminatory ...


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