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

Annotate this Case

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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(a) Had § 14501(c) contained no reference at all to "political subdivision[s] of a State," § 14501(c)(2)(A)'s exception for exercises of the "safety regulatory authority of a State" undoubtedly would have embraced both state and local regulation under Wisconsin Public Intervenor v. Mortier, 501 U. S. 597. It was there held that the exclusion of political subdivisions cannot be inferred from a federal law's express authorization to the "States" to take action, for such subdivisions are components of the very entity the statute empowers, and are created as convenient agencies to exercise such of the State's powers as it chooses to entrust to them, id., at 607-608. This case is a closer call than Mortier because, in contrast to § 14501(c)(2)(A)'s singularly bare reference to "[s]tate" authority, almost every other provision of § 14501 links States and their political subdivisions. Nevertheless, that does not mean that Congress intended to limit the exception to States alone, as respondents contend. Respondents rely on Russello v. United States, 464 U. S. 16, 23, in which the Court observed that, where particular language is included in one section of a federal statute but omitted from another, Congress is generally presumed to have acted intentionally and purposely. Reading § 14501(c)'s exceptions in combination and context, however, leads the Court to conclude that § 14501 does not provide the requisite "clear and manifest indication that Congress sought to supplant local authority." Mortier, 501 U. S., at 611. Section 14501(c)(2)(C) refers to the "authority of a State or a political subdivision of a State to enact or enforce" regulations in particular areas, wording which parallels that of § 14501(c)(1). Accord, § 14501(c)(3). This parallel structure does not imply, however, that § 14501(c)(2)(A)'s concise statement must be read to use the term "State" restrictively. In contrast to §§ 14501(c)(2)(C) and (c)(3), neither the safety exception, § 14501(c)(2)(A), nor the exception for the transportation of household goods, § 14501(c)(2)(B), refers to the "authority ... to enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision." The Russello presumption-that the presence of a phrase in one provision and its absence in another reveals Congress' design-grows weaker with each difference in the formulation of the provisions under inspection. Furthermore, the Court notes, § 14501(c)(1) preempts the power of both States and localities to "enact or enforce" rules related to the "price, route, or service of any motor carrier ... with respect to the transportation of property"; reading the term "State" in § 14501(c)(2)(A) to exclude localities would prevent those units not only from enacting such rules but also from enforcing them, even when such rules were enacted by the state legislature. Finally, resort to the Russello presumption here would yield a decision at odds with our federal system's traditional comprehension of the regulatory authority of a State. Local governmental units are cre-


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Full Text of Opinion

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