Dan's City Used Cars v. Pelkey

PETITIONER: Dan's City Used Cars d/b/a Dan's Auto Body
RESPONDENT: Robert Pelkey
LOCATION: Colonial Village Apartments

DOCKET NO.: 12-52
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: New Hampshire Supreme Court

CITATION: 569 US (2013)
GRANTED: Dec 07, 2012
ARGUED: Mar 20, 2013
DECIDED: May 13, 2013

ADVOCATES:
Andre D. Bouffard - for the petitioner
Brian C. Shaughnessy - for the respondent
Lewis S. Yelin - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae supporting the respondent

Facts of the case

In 2009, Dan's City Used Cars towed Robert Pelkey's car from the parking lot of the Colonial Village apartments pursuant to a policy requiring tenants to move their cars during snowstorms. Pelkey was confined to bed with a serious medical condition, so he did not know his car had been towed. Soon after, he was admitted to the hospital to amputate his left foot. During the operation, Pelky suffered a heart attack. After recovering and returning home, Pelky discovered that his car was missing. Pelkey's attorney learned that Dan's had possession of the car and planned to sell it at public auction. When the attorney tried to arrange return of the vehicle, Dan's falsely told him that the car had already been sold. Dan's later traded the car to a third party, but Pelky did not receive any compensation.

Pelkey sued for violations of the Consumer Protection Act, a statute concerning liens, and a negligence claim based on the common law duty of a bailee. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Dan's, holding that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (the Act) preempted Pelkey's claims. The Act provides that state law claims "related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier, with respect to the transportation of property" are preempted. The Supreme Court of New Hampshire reversed, holding that Pelkey's claims only related to Dan's role in disposing of the vehicle, and did not concern the transportation of property.

Question

Are state law claims against a tow-motor carrier based on state law regulating the sale and disposal of a towed vehicle preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994?

Media for Dan's City Used Cars v. Pelkey

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 20, 2013 in Dan's City Used Cars v. Pelkey

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 13, 2013 in Dan's City Used Cars v. Pelkey

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Ginsburg has our opinion this morning in case 12-52, Dan's City Used Cars versus Pelkey.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This case concerns the preemptive scope of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994, its acronym F4A, an Act about motor carriers, not airplanes.

The F4A bar state laws related to a price, route or service of any motor carrier with respect to the transportation of property.

The question presented is whether that provision precludes state law claims stemming from the storage and disposal of towed vehicles.

We hold it does not.

Respondent Robert Pelkey owned a Honda Civic which he parked in the lot of his apartment complex.

Tenants were required to remove their cars in the event of a snowstorm so the snow could be cleared.

When it snowed heavily in February 2007 and Pelkey failed to remove his car, his landlord engaged Dan's City Used Cars to tow and store the Honda.

At the time and unknown to Dan's City, Pelkey was suffering from a grave medical condition.

Soon, thereafter, he had surgery, suffered a heart attack, and remained hospitalized for two months.

New Hampshire's Abandoned Motor Vehicle Law allows storage companies to dispose of unclaimed cars if efforts to locate and notify the owner fail.

Relying on that law, Dan's City set an auction date of Pelkey's car.

Pelkey learned of the upcoming auction upon his discharge from the hospital.

Two days, prior to the schedule of auction, Pelkey's attorney notified Dan's City that Pelkey wished to reclaim the car and would pay charges due for towing and storage.

Dan's City nevertheless proceeded on its disposal course.

Attracting no bidders at the auction, Dan's City traded the car away.

Receiving no proceeds from the sale, Pelkey sued Dan's City in New Hampshire state court.

He alleged that in selling his Honda, Dan's City failed to meet requirements of New Hampshire's Abandoned Vehicle Law.

Consequently, Pelkey sought damages under New Hampshire's Consumer Protection Act and common law.

The trial court granted summary judgment to Dan's City holding that Pelkey's claims were preempted by the F4A, but the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed that judgment.

The F4A does not preempt Pelkey's suit, the higher court held, because his claims did not relate to the transportation of property or to a motor carrier's service.

We affirm the judgment of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The F4A, as I said a moment ago, preempts state laws related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier with respect to the transportation of property.

Pelkey's claims are not preempted because they do not concern the transportation of property.

He seeks redress for Dan's City's disposal of his vehicle after transportation by towing had ended.

Pelkey raises no objection to the manner in which his car was moved, nor does he question the price of the tow.

He seeks compensation only for what happened once the car ceased moving and was stored.

Furthermore, Pelkey's claims are unrelated to the service a motor carrier offers 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 of which Pelkey complains.