Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport Association

PETITIONER:G. Steven Rowe, Attorney General of Maine
RESPONDENT:New Hampshire Motor Transport Association et al.
LOCATION:Earthquake Park

DOCKET NO.: 06-457
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 552 US 364 (2008)
GRANTED: Oct 02, 2006
ARGUED: Nov 28, 2007
DECIDED: Feb 20, 2008

Beth S. Brinkmann – on behalf of the Respondents
Douglas Hallward-Driemeier – on behalf of United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Respondents
Paul Stern – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

In an effort to address the problem of tobacco use by minors, the Maine legislature passed the Tobacco Delivery Law, which imposes requirements on air and motor carriers that transport tobacco products. One provision of the law requires tobacco retailers to only use carriers that verify the age of each tobacco purchaser, and another provision requires that carriers ensure that no tobacco is shipped to unlicensed retailers. The New Hampshire Motor Transport Association sued, arguing that the state law was preempted by a federal law, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA). The preemption provision of the FAAAA prohibits state from enacting laws “related to” the prices, routes, or services of air and motor carriers. The Association argued that the Tobacco Delivery Law placed such a burden on the delivery procedures of carriers that significantly affected their prices and services. The state countered that the FAAAA was only meant to preempt traditional economic regulation by states, and therefore laws enacted pursuant to the state’s police power – the power of a state to regulate for the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens – were permissible. The U.S. District Court ruled that the law was preempted by the FAAAA.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court. The First Circuit held that a police power exception to the general rule of preemption would be far too broad and was not intended by Congress. Maine could validly ban all unlicensed tobacco products within its borders, but the FAAAA prohibited the state from implementing this goal by imposing requirements on carriers that significantly alter their delivery procedures.


Does the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 preempt a state law that uses the state’s police power to require that air and motor carriers take steps to ensure that tobacco is not sold to minors?

Media for Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport Association

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 28, 2007 in Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport Association

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 20, 2008 in Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport Association

Stephen G. Breyer:

As — as part of its effort to deregulate trucking industry, Congress prohibited States from enacting any law “related to the price, route or service of a motor carrier”.

Now, the question in this case is whether that federal law I just read preempts, i.e. sets aside to Maine tobacco laws.

The first law requires sellers, who ship tobacco into Maine, to use a shipping company that will make certain that the person, who receives and signs for the package is over 18, and is the same person as the one who brought the tobacco.

The second law assumes that the carrier knows that a package that’s marked in a certain way will be shipped from certain people, contains tobacco and then therefore is illegal to transport under Maine law, under certain circumstances.

Now, in our view, both of these provisions do amount for the state regulation of a service, a service of a motor carrier and the federal law forbids the State from doing that.

In Morales versus Trans World Airlines, we said a — similar federal language preempts at the least those state statutes that have a “connection” with the services that carriers provide and at least have a significant negative impact upon what Congress was trying to achieve in this deregulatory statute.

These two particular Maine laws fail these tests.

The first one amounts to a state rule that requires carriers to provide a particular set of tobacco recipient verification services, it’s a very detailed thing they have to provide there and those services that under if there were deregulation of services, the companies would have their choice to provide them or not as they chose.

So the Maine law stops them from having their services as you have to do it.

The second law in effect requires a carrier specially to check all the packages that go to Maine to see whether those markings are there or not or who they were sent by.

Again, the federal statute leaves it up to the carriers to choose whatever checking methods they want to choose, subject to federal regulation, not the state regulation.

This isn’t to say that the carriers are automatically exempt from all state regulation, but they are at least exempt from the specific detailed state regulation that’s aimed directly at carriers and designed to substitute state service mandates for those of the carriers on choice, which is what we have here.

Maine’s primary counter-arguments focus on the fact that if the laws serve desirable, health-related purposes, namely to help prevent minors from obtaining tobacco and we assume that is an excellent purpose, but still the federal statute governs and the federal statute doesn’t provide a health related exemption.

And if we try to read that into that, we would somehow — suddenly permit a vast web of state regulation covering all kinds of products and potentially varying from one state to another which his precisely what Congress did not want.

Maine statutes here essentially seek to conscript the carriers into Maine’s efforts to help — help them regulate tobacco sales.

They have more than a peripheral or indirect effect on carriers.

They don’t present a borderline case.

We consequently need not decide just when a regulation’s effect upon carriers is too remote the warrant preemption.

So we affirm the Court of Appeals decision.

Everyone agrees to that result.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a concurring opinion.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in part.