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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
DAN’S CITY USED CARS, INC., dba
DAN’S CITY AUTO BODY, PETITIONER v.
on writ of certiorari to the supreme court of
[May 13, 2013]
Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the
This case concerns the preemptive scope of a
provision of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act
of 1994 (FAAAA or Act) applicable to motor carriers. Codi- fied at
49 U. S. C. §14501(c)(1), the provision reads:
“[A] State . . . may not enact or
enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and
effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor
carrier . . . with respect to the transportation of
Plaintiff-respondent Robert Pelkey brought suit
under New Hampshire law against defendant-petitioner Dan’s
City Used Cars (Dan’s City), a towing company. Pelkey al-
leged that Dan’s City took custody of his car after towing it
without Pelkey’s knowledge, failed to notify him of its plan
to auction the car, held an auction despite Pelkey’s
communication that he wanted to arrange for the car’s return,
and eventually traded the car away without compensating Pelkey for
the loss of his vehicle.
Disposal of abandoned vehicles by a
“storage company” is regulated by chapter 262 of the
New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated. See N. H. Rev. Stat.
Ann. §§262:31 to 262:40–c (West 2004 and 2012 West
Cum. Supp.). Dan’s City relied on those laws to dispose of
Pelkey’s vehicle for nonpayment of towing and storage fees.
According to Pelkey, however, Dan’s City failed to comply
with New Hampshire’s provisions governing the sale of stored
vehicles and the application of sale proceeds. Pelkey charged that
Dan’s City’s disposal of his car without following the
requirements contained in chapter 262 violated the New Hampshire
Consumer Protection Act, §358–A:2 (West 2009), as well
as Dan’s City’s statutory and common-law duties as
bailee to exercise reasonable care while in possession of a
We hold, in accord with the New Hampshire
Supreme Court, that state-law claims stemming from the storage and
disposal of a car, once towing has ended, are not sufficiently
connected to a motor carrier’s service with respect to the
transportation of property
to warrant pre- emption under
§14501(c)(1). The New Hampshire law in point regulates no
towing services, no carriage of prop- erty. Instead, it trains on
custodians of stored vehicles seeking to sell them. Congress did
not displace the State’s regulation of that activity by any
The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (ADA),
92Stat. 1705, largely deregulated the domestic airline industry. In
keeping with the statute’s aim to achieve “maximum
reliance on competitive market forces,” id.
, at 1706,
Congress sought to “ensure that the States would not undo
federal deregulation with regulation of their own.”
v. Trans World Airlines, Inc.
, 504 U.S.
, 378 (1992). Congress therefore included a preemption
provision, now codified at 49 U. S. C. §41713(b)(1),
prohibiting States from enacting or enforcing any law
“related to a price, route, or service of an air
Two years later, the Motor Carrier Act of 1980,
94 Stat. 793, extended deregulation to the trucking industry.
Congress completed the deregulation 14 years thereafter, in 1994,
by expressly preempting state trucking regulation. Congress did so
upon finding that state governance of intrastate transportation of
property had become “unreasonably burden[some]” to
“free trade, interstate commerce, and American
v. Ours Ga- rage & Wrecker
, 536 U.S.
, 440 (2002) (citing FAAAA §601(a)(1), 108Stat. 1605).
Borrowing from the ADA’s preemption clause, but adding a new
qualification, §601(c) of the FAAAA supersedes state laws
“related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier
. . . with respect to the transportation of
.” 108Stat. 1606, now codified at 49
U. S. C. §14501(c)(1) (emphasis added).[1
] The Act exempts certain measures
from its preemptive scope, including state laws regulating motor
vehicle safety, size, and weight; motor carrier insurance; and the
intrastate transportation of household goods.
§§14501(c)(2)(A)–(B). Also exempted from preemption
are state laws “relating to the price” of
“vehicle transportation by a tow truck,” if towing
occurs without prior consent of the vehicle owner.
This case involves the interaction between the
FAAAA’s preemption clause and the State of New
Hampshire’s regulation of the removal, storage, and disposal
of abandoned motor vehicles. Chapter 262 of the New Hampshire
Revised Statutes Annotated establishes procedures by which an
“authorized official” or the “owner . . . of any
private property . . . on which a vehicle is parked without
permission” may arrange to have the vehicle towed and stored.
N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§262:31 to 262:34,
262:40–a(I). It generally makes the owner of a towed vehicle
responsible for reasonable removal and storage fees. See
§262:33(I) (reasonable removal and storage charges
“shall be a lien against the vehicle which shall be paid by
the owner”); §262:33(II) (owner entitled to recover
vehicle after “payment of all reasonable towing and storage
charges”); §262:40–a(II) (owner of a vehicle towed
from a parking lot or parking garage is responsible for
“removal and storage charges” when the lot or garage
conspicuously posts notice of parking restrictions).
Under chapter 262, the custodian of a car that
remains unclaimed for 30 days following a tow may dispose of the
vehicle upon compliance with notice requirements.
§§262:36–a(I), (II). A “garage owner or
keeper” must post notices of an impending sale in public
places and provide mail notice to the vehicle owner whenever the
owner’s address may “be ascertained . . . by
the exercise of reasonable diligence.” §262:38. If a
towed vehicle is not fit for legal use, its custodian need not
provide individual or public notice prior to disposal, and sale of
the vehicle may occur upon written notice to and approval from New
Hampshire’s Department of Public Safety.
On compliance with the statutory requirements,
the custodian of a stored vehicle may sell the vehicle by public
auction at its place of business. §262:37. The storage company
may use the sale proceeds to pay “the amount of the liens and
the reasonable expenses incident to the sale.” §262:39
(West 2004). Remaining proceeds are payable “to the
[vehicle’s] owner . . . if claimed at any time
within one year from the date of sale.” Ibid.
The landlord of the apartment complex in which
Pelkey lived required tenants to remove their cars from the parking
lot in the event of a snowstorm, so that the snow could be cleared.
Pelkey’s 2004 Honda Civic remained in the lot during and
after a February 2007 snowstorm. At the landlord’s request,
Dan’s City towed and stored the vehicle. Confined to his bed
with a serious medical condition, Pelkey did not know his car had
been towed. Soon after removal of his car, Pelkey was admitted to
the hospital for a procedure to amputate his left foot, during
which he suffered a heart attack. He remained under hospital care
until his discharge on April 9, 2007.
Unaware of Pelkey’s identity or illness,
Dan’s City sought permission from New Hampshire’s
Department of Public Safety to sell the Honda at auction without
notice. In response, the department identified Pelkey as the last
known owner of the vehicle. Dan’s City wrote to Pelkey,
notifying him that it had towed and was storing his car. When the
post office returned the letter, checking the box “moved,
left no address,” Dan’s City scheduled an auction for
April 19. Meanwhile, in the days following Pelkey’s discharge
from the hospital, his attorney learned from counsel for the
apartment complex that the car had been towed by Dan’s City
and was scheduled to be sold at pub- lic auction. On April 17,
Pelkey’s attorney informed Dan’s City that Pelkey
wanted to pay any charges owed and reclaim his vehicle. Dan’s
City nevertheless proceeded with the auction. Attracting no
bidders, Dan’s City later disposed of the car by trading it
to a third party. Pelkey was not notified in advance of the trade,
and has received no proceeds from the sale.
Pelkey brought suit against Dan’s City in
New Hampshire Superior Court. He alleged that Dan’s City
violated the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act, N. H. Rev.
Stat. Ann. §358–A:2, by failing to comply with chapter
262’s requirements for disposal of stored vehicles, mak- ing
false statements about the condition and value of his Honda, and
proceeding with the auction despite notice that Pelkey wanted to
reclaim the car.[3
] He also
alleged that Dan’s City negligently breached both statutory
and common-law duties as a bailee to use reasonable care in
disposing of the car. Granting summary judgment to Dan’s
City, the New Hampshire Superior Court concluded that
Pelkey’s claims were preempted by the FAAAA.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed. It
held the FAAAA’s preemption clause, 49 U. S. C.
§14501(c)(1), inapplicable because Pelkey’s claims
related to Dan’s City’s conduct in disposing of his
Honda post-storage, not to conduct concerning “the
transportation of property.” 163 N. H. 483,
490–493, 44 A.3d 480, 487–489 (2012) (emphasis
deleted). Alternatively, the court ruled that, even if
Pelkey’s claims could be said to concern the transportation
of property, they did not “sufficiently relat[e] to a towing
company’s ‘service’ to be preempted.”
at 493, 44 A. 3d, at 490.
We granted certiorari to resolve a division of
opinion in state supreme courts on whether 49 U. S. C.
§14501(c)(1) preempts a vehicle owner’s state-law claims
against a towing company regarding the company’s post-towing
disposal of the vehicle. 568 U. S. ___ (2012). Compare 163
N. H. 483, 44 A.3d 480 (this case), with Weatherspoon
v. Tillery Body Shop, Inc.
, 44 So. 3d 447, 458 (Ala. 2010)
(§14501(c)(1) preempts state statutory and common-law claims
arising out of storage and sale of a towed vehicle).
Where, as in this case, Congress has
superseded state legislation by statute, our task is to
“identify the domain expressly pre-empted.”
Lorillard Tobacco Co.
, 533 U.S.
, 541 (2001). To do so, we focus first on the statutory
language, “which necessarily contains the best evidence of
Congress’ pre-emptive intent.” CSX Transp., Inc.
, 507 U.S.
, 664 (1993).
The FAAAA’s preemption clause prohibits
enforcement of state laws “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). In Rowe
v. New Hampshire Motor Transp.
, 552 U.S.
, 370 (2008), our reading of this language was informed by
decisions interpreting the parallel language in the ADA’s
preemption clause. The phrase “related to,” we said,
embraces state laws “having a connection with or reference
to” carrier “ ‘rates, routes, or
services,’ ” whether directly or indirectly.
, 504 U. S., at 384;
emphasis deleted). See also id
., at 383 (“ordinary
meaning of . . . words [‘related to’] is a
broad one,” thus ADA’s use of those words
“expresses a broad pre-emptive purpose”).
At the same time, the breadth of the words
“related to” does not mean the sky is the limit. We
have refused to read the preemption clause of the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U. S. C.
§1144(a), which supersedes state laws “relate[d] to any
employee benefit plan,” with an “uncritical
literalism,” else “for all practical purposes
pre-emption would never run its course.” New York State
Conference of Blue Cross & Blue Shield Plans
Travelers Ins. Co.
, 514 U.S.
, 655–656 (1995) (internal quotation marks omitted).
And we have cautioned that §14501(c)(1) does not preempt state
laws affecting carrier prices, routes, and services “in only
a ‘tenuous, remote, or peripheral . . .
manner.’ ” Rowe
, 552 U. S., at 371
, 504 U. S., at 390).
The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that
Pelkey’s state-law claims are “related to”
neither the “transportation of property” nor the
“service” of a motor carrier. We agree.
Pelkey’s claims escape preemption, we
hold, because they are not “related to” the service of
a motor carrier “with respect to the transportation of
property.” §14501(c)(1). Although §14501(c)(1)
otherwise tracks the ADA’s air-carrier preemption provision,
, 552 U. S., at 370, the FAAAA formulation
contains one conspicuous alteration—the addition of the words
“with respect to the transportation of property.” That
phrase “massively limits the scope of preemption”
ordered by the FAAAA. Ours Garage
, 536 U. S., at 449
(Scalia, J., dissenting).[4
the New Hampshire Supreme Court correctly understood, for purposes
of FAAAA preemption, it is not sufficient that a state law relates
to the “price, route, or service” of a motor carrier in
any capacity; the law must also concern a motor carrier’s
“transportation of property.” See 163 N. H., at
490, 44 A. 3d, at 487.
Title 49 defines “transportation,”
in relevant part, as “services related to th[e]
movement” of property, “including arranging for,
receipt, delivery, elevation, transfer in transit, refrigeration,
icing, ventilation, storage, handling, packing, unpacking, and
interchange of passengers and property.” §13102(23)(B).
Pelkey’s Consumer Protection Act and negligence claims are
not “related to th[e] movement
” of his car.
(emphasis added). He charges Dan’s City with
failure to comply with chapter 262 and neglect of its statutory and
common-law duties of care as a bailee of his stored vehicle.
Chapter 262 does not limit when, where, or how tow trucks may be
operated. The Chapter regulates, instead, the disposal of vehicles
once their transportation—here, by towing—has ended.
Pelkey does not object to the manner in which his car was moved or
the price of the tow; he seeks redress only for conduct subsequent
to “transportation,” conduct occurring after the car
ceased moving and was stored.
Dan’s City maintains that because
§13102(23)(B)’s definition of
“transportation” includes “storage” and
“handling,” Pelkey’s claims, which do concern the
storage and handling of his car, fall within
§14501(c)(1)’s preemp- tive ambit. Dan’s City
overlooks, however, that under §13102(23)(B), services such as
“storage” and “handling” fit within the
definition of “transportation” only when those services
“relat[e] to th[e] movement” of property. Temporary
storage of an item in transit en route to its final destination
relates to the movement of property and therefore fits within
§13102(23)(B)’s definition. But property stored after
delivery is no longer in transit. Cf. 49 CFR §375.609 (2012)
(distinguishing between “storage-in-transit” and
“permanent storage” (regulation of Federal Motor
Carrier Safety Administration)). Here, no storage occurred in the
course of transporting Pelkey’s vehicle. Dan’s
City’s storage of Pelkey’s car after the towing job was
done, in short, does not involve “transportation”
within the meaning of the federal Act.
Pelkey’s claims also survive preemption
under §14501(c)(1) because they are unrelated to a
“service” a motor carrier renders its customers. The
transportation service Dan’s City provided was the removal of
Pelkey’s car from his landlord’s parking lot. That
service, which did involve the movement of property, ended months
before the conduct on which Pelkey’s claims are based. His
claims rely on New Hampshire’s abandoned vehicle disposal
regime, prescribed in chapter 262, for the rules governing
Dan’s City’s conduct.[5
] Chapter 262 addresses “storage compan[ies]”
and “garage owner[s] or keeper[s],” not transportation
activities. See N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann.
§§262:36–a, 262:38. Unlike Maine’s tobacco
delivery regulations at issue in Rowe
, chapter 262 has
neither a direct nor an indirect connection to any transportation
services a motor carrier offers its customers.
U. S., at 371. We need not venture an all-purposes definition
of transportation “service[s]” in order to conclude
that state-law claims homing in on the disposal of stored vehicles
fall outside §14501(c)(1)’s preemptive compass.
Our conclusion that state-law claims regarding
disposal of towed vehicles are not preempted is in full accord with
Congress’ purpose in enacting §14501(c)(1). Concerned
that state regulation “impeded the free flow of trade,
traffic, and transportation of interstate commerce,” Congress
resolved to displace “certain
aspects of the State
regulatory process.” FAAAA §601(a), 108Stat. 1605
(emphasis added). The target at which it aimed was “a
State’s direct substitution of its own governmental commands
for competitive market forces in determining (to a signifi- cant
degree) the services that motor carriers will pro- vide.”
, 552 U. S., at 372 (internal quotation marks
Pelkey’s claims are far removed from
Congress’ driving concern. He sued under state consumer
protection and tort laws to gain compensation for the alleged
unlawful disposal of his vehicle. The state laws in question hardly
constrain participation in interstate commerce by requiring a motor
carrier to offer services not available in the market. Nor do the
state laws invoked by Pelkey “freez[e] into place services
that carriers might prefer to discon- tinue in the future.”
New Hampshire’s laws on dis- posal of stored
vehicles, moreover, will not open the way for “a patchwork of
state service-determining laws, rules, and regulations.”
, at 373. As Dan’s City concedes, abandoned vehicle
laws like chapter 262 “do not hamper the operations of tow
truckers” and “are not the kind of burdensome state
economic regulation Congress sought to preempt.” Reply Brief
Dan’s City advances two further
arguments in favor of preemption. First, Dan’s City contends
that Congress’ enumeration of exceptions to preemption,
detailed in 49 U. S. C. §§14501(c)(2), (3), and
(5), permits state regulation of motor carriers only when the
State’s law comes within a specified exception. Because
Pelkey’s claims do not fit within any exception to
preemption, Dan’s City urges, those claims must be preempted.
This argument exceeds sensible bounds. Exceptions to a general
rule, while sometimes a helpful interpretive guide, do not in
themselves delineate the scope of the rule. The exceptions to
§14501(c)(1)’s general rule of preemption identify
matters a State may regulate when it would otherwise be precluded
from doing so, but they do not control more than that.
An example may clarify the point. Section
14501(c) does not exempt zoning regulations. Such laws, however,
“are peculiarly within the province of state and local
legislative authorities.” Warth
, 508, n. 18 (1975). It is hardly doubtful that state
or local regulation of the physical location of motor-carrier
operations falls outside the preemptive sweep of §14501(c)(1).
That is so because zoning ordinances ordinarily are not
“related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier
. . . with re- spect to the transportation of
property.” §14501(c)(1). The same is true of New
Hampshire’s regulation of the dis- posal of stored
Dan’s City, in a second argument, urges
otherwise. Pelkey’s claims, Dan’s City maintains, are
“related to” the towing service it rendered because
selling Pelkey’s car was the means by which Dan’s City
obtained payment for the tow. But if such state-law claims are
preempted, no law would govern resolution of a non-contract-based
dispute arising from a towing company’s disposal of a vehicle
previously towed or afford a remedy for wrongful disposal. Federal
law does not speak to these issues.[6
] Thus, not only would the preemption urged by
Dan’s City leave vehicle owners without any recourse for
damages, it would eliminate the sole legal authorization for a
towing com- pany’s disposal of stored vehicles that go
unclaimed. No such design can be attributed to a rational Congress.
v. Kerr-McGee Corp.
, 464 U.S.
, 251 (1984) (“It is difficult to believe that
Congress would, without comment, remove all means of judicial
recourse for those injured by illegal conduct.”).
In sum, Dan’s City cannot have it both
ways. It cannot rely on New Hampshire’s regulatory framework
as authorization for the sale of Pelkey’s car, yet argue that
Pelkey’s claims, invoking the same state-law regime, are
preempted. New Hampshire’s legislation on abandoned vehicles
gave rise to Pelkey’s debt and established the conditions
under which Dan’s City could collect on that debt by selling
Pelkey’s Honda. See N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann.
§§262:33, 262:36–a, 262:40–a; supra
at 3–5. Pelkey’s claims, attacking Dan’s
City’s conduct in disposing of the vehicle, rest on the very
same provisions. See Brief for Petitioner 41 (“All of the
alleged wrongful conduct of Dan’s City was part of the state
sanctioned and regulated process for disposing of abandoned
vehicles under Ch. 262.”).
* * *
For the reasons stated, we hold that 49
U. S. C. §14501(c)(1) does not preempt state-law
claims for dam- ages stemming from the storage and disposal of a
towed vehicle. The judgment of the New Hampshire Supreme Court is
It is so ordered.