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CONSOLIDATED FREIGHTWAYS CORP. v. LARSON

November 19, 1986

CONSOLIDATED FREIGHTWAYS CORPORATION OF DELAWARE, a Delaware Corporation, Plaintiff
v.
THOMAS D. LARSON, individually, and in his capacity as Secretary of Transportation, Department of Transportation, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; JAY COCHRAN, JR., individually and in his capacity as Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police; LEROY S. ZIMMERMAN, individually and in his capacity as Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; RICHARD THORNBURGH, individually, and in his capacity as Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HERMAN

 I. INTRODUCTION

 This case is a preemption case. The plaintiff is Consolidated Freightways Corporation (Consolidated or Consolidated Freight). Consolidated operates truck tractor-semitrailer-trailer combinations (twins or doubles) and truck tractor-semitrailer combinations (single twins) in which the semitrailer has a length less than twenty-eight and one-half feet, a width of 102 inches, and which usually operates as part of a twin on highways in Pennsylvania. Plaintiff also operates some truck tractor-semitrailer combinations (semis) in which the semitrailer has a length of forty-four feet. Plaintiff contends that the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 (STAA) preempts certain provisions of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 4908, 4921, and 4923 governing access by twins, single twins, and large semis to and from a national network of highways established by the federal act. Plaintiff seeks as its remedy declaratory judgment and an injunction against enforcing the allegedly preempted portions of state law. *fn1"

 The record in this case consists of the transcript of a non-jury trial held January 8, 1986 through January 14, 1986, the exhibits introduced at that hearing, deposition transcripts submitted by agreement of the parties, and designated portions of the record of a prior proceeding in which the instant plaintiff challenged Pennsylvania's proscription of twin trailer combination vehicles on all of its roadways. See Document No. 9, dated September 5, 1984 in this action, and Consolidated Freightways Corporation of Delaware v. Thomas D. Larson, C.A. No. 81-1230.

 The parties have submitted their post-trial briefs and requests for findings of fact and conclusions of law, and the matter is now ripe for decision.

 II. DISCUSSION

 Plaintiff, Consolidated Freight, advances two main arguments in support of its claim that the Surface Transportation Assistance Act preempts Pennsylvania's statutory and administrative scheme providing access to the national network. First, Consolidated asserts that Pennsylvania's access laws are facially violative of the federal law in that the federal law does not allow review of access routes prior to their use by STAA vehicles, whereas Pennsylvania denies use of any non-network route by STAA vehicles unless and until that route is approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and any local municipalities that may have jurisdiction over the route. Further, Consolidated argues, the Pennsylvania laws are facially violative of the STAA because they essentially deny all access to facilities off the national network for food, fuel, rest and repair, and because they effectively prohibit access by single twin trailers and household goods movers to points of loading and unloading.

 Second, Consolidated argues that Pennsylvania's access scheme as applied violates the STAA because of the delays in access route approvals, the arbitrary denials, and the applications of erroneous standards that have proved to be the norm during the several years since institution of the approval procedures.

 A. The Supremacy Clause Analysis

 The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, and the preemption doctrine that arises therefrom, prohibit any state from enacting and enforcing any laws contrary to the laws of the United States. A federal law can preempt a state law either expressly or impliedly. In the instant case, it is clear that the Surface Transportation Assistance Act expressly preempts any conflicting state laws: "No State may enact or enforce any law denying reasonable access . . ." 49 U.S.C. § 2312(a). Because Congress has expressed a "clear and manifest" intention to preempt conflicting state law, Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U.S. 519, 525, 51 L. Ed. 2d 604, 97 S. Ct. 1305 (1977), our only inquiry in this case is whether the Pennsylvania laws governing access to the national network of highways established by the Surface Transportation Assistance Act conflict with that Act. In conducting this inquiry, we must consider not only the state and federal laws as written, but also these laws as they are interpreted and applied. Id. at 526.

 B. The Federal Statute

 The Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 was passed to alleviate the burden on interstate commerce created by individual states such as Pennsylvania prohibiting twin trailers and other large vehicles on interstate highways within their borders. The Act created national vehicle size limitations of 102 inches in width, forty-eight feet in length for a semi-trailer, and twenty-eight feet in length for twin trailers (vehicles of these dimensions will be termed STAA vehicles). The Act also created a national network of Interstate Highways and federal-aid primary roads designated by the United States Secretary of Transportation on which these wider and longer STAA vehicles could run. In order to insure access for these vehicles to terminals and facilities for food, fuel, rest, and repair, and, for household goods carriers, to points of loading or unloading, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act also prohibited states from interfering with "reasonable access" between the network and these facilities.

 In subsequent amendments, Congress provided a mechanism for exempting certain segments of the interstate highway system from the national network if the Secretary of the Department of Transportation determines that they are not capable of safely accommodating the larger STAA vehicles. Congress also approved inclusion of segments of highways in the national network that have lanes less than twelve feet in width, and made explicit that tractors pulling a single 102 inch wide twin trailer should also be afforded reasonable access to and from points of loading and unloading. See 49 U.S.C. § 2312; Tandem Truck Safety Act of 1984, P.L. 98-554, 98 Stat. 2829. *fn2"

 While this interpretation, although awkward, might be plausible had Congress enacted the reasonable access provision without comment, Congress has indicated a contrary intent in the legislative histories of both the original Surface Transportation Assistance Act and the later Tandem Truck Safety Act of 1984. In the House Committee Report on the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, H.R. Rep. No. 555, 97th Cong., 2d Sess., reprinted in 1982 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News 3639, the Committee noted that the provision requiring the states to permit STAA vehicles reasonable access to and from the national network "is not intended to preempt a State's reasonable exercise of its police powers with respect to safeguarding public safety on roads within the area of its jurisdiction." Id., 1982 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News at 3662. This comment indicates that although states may not deny reasonable access, Congress intended that an ingredient in determining reasonableness may be a determination of whether or not use of a particular route by STAA vehicles would endanger the public safety. In other words, Congress clearly intended that a state or local government might deny access to and from the national network over a route that cannot safely be used by STAA vehicles.

 Further, the Congressional intent that states be allowed to reasonably exercise their police powers in the interest of safety, that they be allowed to deny certain access routes for safety reasons, also indicates that in appropriate circumstances a state may reasonably exercise its police power in the interest of safety to deny access pending a safety review of a proposed access route. To be consistent with the statute and Congress's intent in passing the statute, however, such prior review and approval must be reasonable, i.e., it must be a "reasonable exercise of [the state's] police powers with respect to safeguarding public safety on roads within the area of its jurisdiction." 1982 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News at 3662.

 That Congress did intend that states have control over the approval or denial of reasonable access routes to the extent of their police power interest in providing for the safety of their citizens is confirmed by the legislative history of the amendments to the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. In the Senate Committee Report of the Tandem Truck Safety Act of 1984, S. Rep. No. 505, 98th Cong., 2d Sess., reprinted in 1984 U. S. Code Cong. & Ad. News 4769, the Committee expressly acknowledged its awareness that the Secretary of Transportation "has allowed the States to establish individual provisions for access to the national network, rather than establish a Federal definition of reasonable access." Id., 1984 U. S. Code Cong. & Ad. News at 4772. Despite their awareness that the resulting "nonuniformity of access has become a considerable burden for trucking companies," id., Congress did nothing to change the reasonable access provisions of the law to provide for a uniform, national definition of reasonable access. Congress knew full well at the time it passed the Tandem Truck Safety Act that some states "permit very little deviation from the national network," id., yet it made no provisions for more liberal access over non-network routes.

 It is an accepted rule of statutory construction that "when a Congress that reenacts a statute voices its approval of an administrative or other interpretation thereof, Congress is treated as having adopted that interpretation." United States v. Board of Commissioners, 435 U.S. 110, 134, 98 S. Ct. 965, 55 L. Ed. 2d 148 (1978). Although Congress did not, strictly speaking, re-enact the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, it did amend the Act with full knowledge of the interpretation given it by both the Secretary of Transportation and several states. Absence of any change to the "reasonable access" language under these circumstances can therefore be taken to indicate that Congress, in fact, intended the interpretation that states be allowed to make their own determinations of reasonable access.

 In sum, these two pieces of legislative history, taken together with the language of the Act itself, indicate that Congress forbade states from denying reasonable access, but left it up to the states themselves to determine what is reasonable. Congress evidently intended that states be allowed to exercise their police powers to safeguard the safety of the public by denying as unreasonable access routes to and from the national network that cannot be safely traversed by STAA vehicles. The states' power to deny access is tempered, however, by the caveats that reasonable access must be available, and that states may only exercise their police powers reasonably and in the interest of public safety. Essentially, Congress has authorized a sliding scale test for the availability of an access route: the greater the risk to the safety of the public posed by the use of a route by an STAA vehicle, the more leeway the state has to deny or even temporarily deny the use of that route pursuant to the reasonable exercise of its police powers.

 C. The State Access Scheme

 Pennsylvania's approach to exercising its police powers in relation to the Congressional mandate that it not deny reasonable access has gradually evolved over the years since the Surface Transportation Assistance Act was first enacted into law. Pennsylvania now has a conglomeration of statutes, regulations, and formal and informal policies that guide the use of this power.

 In 1983, after the Surface Transportation Assistance Act was passed, the Pennsylvania legislature passed an act in an attempt to bring Pennsylvania law into conformity with the new federal law. See Act of July 7, 1983, P.L. 32, No. 19, 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 4908. This relatively new statute provides that twin trailer vehicles and the longer semi-trailer vehicles authorized by the federal Act may only be driven on the national network created by STAA. It further provides that these STAA vehicles may have access off the national network only to terminals and facilities for food, fuel, rest, and repair that are within two-tenths of a mile of the nearest ramp or intersection leading to a national network highway, and then only if they are located on highways having lanes at least twelve feet wide. This restrictive provision is softened somewhat by a "cluster" rule which reads:

 
where one or more terminals or facilities for food, fuel, repair or rest along a highway having lanes at least 12 feet wide are in close proximity to a terminal or facility which is within two-tenths of a mile of the designated network, all of such terminals and facilities shall be deemed to be within two-tenths of a mile of the designated network.

 75 P. C.S.A. § 4908(c). The statute also includes a provision for expanded access to terminals farther away than two-tenths of a mile or to terminals on highways with lanes less than twelve feet wide that "can safely and reasonably be accessed using highways approved under subsection (d)." 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 4908(a)(2)(ii).

 Subsection (d) of the statute sets out a route approval process whereby trucking companies can apply for approval of access routes between the national network and terminals that are not automatically accessible by virtue of the two-tenths of a mile provisions. This procedure requires that trucking companies seek approval of expanded access routes prior to running STAA vehicles on them from one of three government bodies:

 
Approval of a route under subsection (a)(2)(ii) or (b)(2) shall be obtained from the:
 
(1) City in the case of any highway in a city.
 
(2) Department in the case of a State highway not in a city, except that the department will, upon request, delegate authority to approve routes under this subsection to a municipality which has been delegated authority to issue permits in accordance with section 420 of the act ...

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