Mid-Con Freight Systems, Inc. v. Michigan Public Service Commission

PETITIONER: Mid-Con Freight Systems, Inc., et al.
RESPONDENT: Michigan Public Service Commission, et al.
LOCATION: Meramec River

DOCKET NO.: 03-1234
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 545 US 440 (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

A Michigan law imposed an annual $100 fee on each Michigan license-plated truck that operated entirely in interstate commerce. A group of interstate trucking companies sought unsuccesfully to have Michigan courts invalidate the law. The companies claimed that the federal law that had created the Single State Registration System (SSRS) preempted and prohibited such state fees. Under the federal law a trucking company could obtain a permit applicable in every state by registering once in a single state. While the initial state could demand a fee equal to the sum of its individual state fee, the law prohibited a state from imposing an additional "state registration requirement."

Question

Did federal law establishing for trucks the Single State Registration System (SSRS) preempt a separate Michigan registration fee?

Media for Mid-Con Freight Systems, Inc. v. Michigan Public Service Commission

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 20, 2005 in Mid-Con Freight Systems, Inc. v. Michigan Public Service Commission

Stephen G. Breyer:

Now the second case called Mid-Con Freight Systems against the Michigan Public Service Commission is more complicated.

It concerns a different $100 fee per truck.

Michigan imposes that $100 fee on trucks that have Michigan license plates but those which are operating entirely in interstate commerce across state lines.

There is a federal statute that says when “a state registration requirement” imposes a fee that is really more than a few dollars, it is unlawful.

Does that federal statute preempt, forbid, Michigan’s $100 fee?

Well, that depends.

Is the state fee what the statute is about?

Is it a “state registration requirement” within the meaning of the statute?

We conclude that it is not.

That is not the kind of thing that the statute is talking about.

We examine the statutes, the federal statutes, language, context, history, and what it tells us is that this statute is about somewhat interesting, what used to be called the bingo card system.

If you have seen a truck, they used to have these things in the front that look like bingo cards with the names or abbreviations for different states, and what they put there was a decal which is a debt from each state which would give them the decal provided the truck showed that it complied with certain federal requirements, like in the sense that they had a federal permit.

If you did that, you proved that to the state, and then the state give you a little decal, you put it on the bingo card and then you could travel through the state.

Well, Congress decided that was all too complicated and so it said we are going to have a new system, and it created this statute which creates a new system.

And now, with your interstate truck, you go to one state and they get you all the decals in a sense at one go.

That is what the statute is about.

Now, is this Michigan requirement about that?

No.

We go through it and we think the Michigan requirement really has nothing to do with that or not much to do with it and, therefore, it falls outside the words state requirement within the statute and therefore, maybe there is some other thing that prohibits Michigan from having this but it is not the statute.

Now we go through this in the opinion in some detail.

It is a close question but we end up affirming the similar determination of the Michigan Court that this statute does not prohibit that Michigan fee.

Justice Kennedy has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justice O’Connor joined.