Columbus v. Ours Garage & Wrecker Service, Inc., 536 U.S. 424 (2002)

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424

OCTOBER TERM, 2001

Syllabus

CITY OF COLUMBUS et al. v. OURS GARAGE AND WRECKER SERVICE, INC., et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit

No. 01-419. Argued April 23, 2002—Decided June 20, 2002

Federal law preempts prescriptions by "a State [or] political subdivision of a State . . . related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier . . . with respect to the transportation of property," 49 U. S. C. 14501(c)(1). Exceptions to this general rule provide that the preemption directive "shall not restrict the safety regulatory authority of a State with respect to motor vehicles," 14501(c)(2)(A); "does not apply to the transportation of household goods," 14501(c)(2)(B); and "does not apply to the authority of a State or a political subdivision of a State" to regulate "the price of for-hire motor vehicle transportation by a tow truck . . . performed without the prior consent . . . of the [towed vehicle's] owner or operator," 14501(c)(2)(C). Petitioner Columbus, Ohio (City), extensively regulates the operation of tow trucks seeking to pick up vehicles within city limits. Plaintiff-respondents, a tow-truck operator and a trade association of such operators, brought this suit to enjoin enforcement of the City's tow-truck regulations on the ground that they were preempted by 14501(c)(1). The Federal District Court granted the plaintiffs summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed based on its earlier decision in Petrey v. Toledo, in which it held that city tow-truck regulations similar to those of Columbus were preempted. Observing that 14501(c)(1)'s preemption rule explicitly applies to "a State [or] political subdivision of a State," while the exception for safety regulations, 14501(c)(2)(A), refers only to the "authority of a State," the Petrey court determined that the contrast in statutory language indicated that Congress meant to limit the safety exception to States alone. This reading, the court further reasoned, was consistent with Congress' deregulatory purpose of encouraging market forces by eliminating a myriad of complicated and potentially conflicting state regulations. Yet another level of regulation at the local level, the court inferred, would be disfavored.

Held: Section 14501(c) does not bar a State from delegating to municipalities and other local units the State's authority to establish safety regulations governing motor carriers of property, including tow trucks. Pp. 432-442.

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