American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Michigan Public Service Commission

PETITIONER: American Trucking Associations, Inc. and USF Holland, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Michigan Public Service Commission, et al.
LOCATION: City of New London Town Hall

DOCKET NO.: 03-1230
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 545 US 429 (2005)
GRANTED: Jan 14, 2005
ARGUED: Apr 26, 2005
DECIDED: Jun 20, 2005

ADVOCATES:
Henry J. Boynton - argued the cause for Respondents
James H. Hanson - argued the cause for Petitioners in 03-1234
Malcolm L. Stewart - argued the cause for Respondents
Robert Digges, Jr. - argued the cause for Petitioners in 03-1230

Facts of the case

Michigan law required every truck engaged in intrastate commercial hauling to pay a flat $100 annual fee. Interstate trucking companies asked Michigan courts to invalidate the fee, claiming the flat fee discriminated against interstate carriers and imposed an unconstitutional burden on interstate trade (in violation of the "dormant" commerce clause). They pointed to the fact that trucks carrying both interstate and intrastate loads engaged in intrastate business less than trucks that only haul within Michigan. State courts refused to invalidate the fee.

Question

Did a Michigan law requiring every truck engaged in intrastate commercial hauling to pay a fee violate burden interstate trade in violation of the dormant commerce clause?

Media for American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Michigan Public Service Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 26, 2005 in American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Michigan Public Service Commission

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 20, 2005 in American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Michigan Public Service Commission

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Breyer.

Stephen G. Breyer:

We have here mini treat as Michigan Trucking regulation.

The first case is American Trucking Association against the Michigan Public Service Commission.

It involves a $100 fee that Michigan imposes on trucks that engage in local business, intrastate business, and you have to pay it whether you are entirely in local business or say, you are in interstate truck that travels across the nation that you want to do a little local business on the side.

So, the latter interstate group say, this is not very fair, if we just do a little bit of business in Michigan, we pay a $100 and the people who do it all the time, pay a $100.

So, really per load or per truck or per mile, they are paying a lot less, and that violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Well, we don’t think it does violate the Commerce Clause.

Commerce Clause says that commercial speaking, “all the members of the entire United States have to sink or swim together”, and it imposes a requirement called the Dormant Commerce Clause that forbids states to discriminate against out of state commercial enterprises or out of state commerce that crosses the border, but we don’t find any such discrimination here.

On the face of the statute it makes no instate, out of state distinction, everybody pays a $100.

It applies only to instate domestic transactions that’s what it's about.

It's neutral, locally focused, there is no evidence in the record of serious discriminatory harm in practice.

There is nothing here that shows it significantly deters or distorts interstate trade.

The record suggest that the $100 amounts to a reasonably fair share of the regulatory cost like, inspecting a truck that the $100 goes to defray and it is obviously far simpler to administer a flat tax and it is to have some complicated per mile tax.

At least the record does not show to the contrary.

So, it does not place a financial barrier around the State.

Language that comes from American Trucking Association versus Scheiner, a case on which the truckers heavily rely, we distinguish that case, the reasons I have summarized and others we find no Commerce Clause violation and we affirm a similar determination by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have each filed opinions concurring in the judgment.