Supreme Court Roundup: Decisions Involving Tow Truck Regulation, Canvassing Permits, Privacy

By Otero, Juan | Nation's Cities Weekly, July 1, 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Supreme Court Roundup: Decisions Involving Tow Truck Regulation, Canvassing Permits, Privacy


Otero, Juan, Nation's Cities Weekly


Tow Trucks/Preemption: City Columbus v. Ours Garage and Wrecker Service, (01-419.)

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that local governments can regulate tow truck operators for safety reasons, as long as the authority to do so is delegated by the state. City and county governments can now enact safety rules for the tow-truck business, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a decision that bolsters laws in dozens of cities. The ruling came in a fight over Columbus, Ohio, ordinances that require tow-truck operators to get a license and submit to an annual inspection for each truck.

A lower court had concluded that the 1995 U.S. Interstate Commerce Act bars states from delegating their power to enact safety regulations to local governments. The nation's highest court disagreed, saying the Columbus rules are permissible as long they cover safety issues. The Columbus rules also bar trucks from engaging in "chasing"--racing to the scone of an accident without being summoned in the hope of elbowing out competitors for the business.

The Interstate Commerce Act puts much of the trucking industry under exclusive federal jurisdiction. It makes an exception for the "safety regulatory authority of a state." The central question in the case was whether that phrase means a state must exercise its safety authority itself or instead can delegate it to local authorities. Ours Garage argued that local governments can set the rules only when they are purchasing services--for example, when they contract with a company to tow vehicles that were abandoned or in an accident. Most states give local governments broad authority to enact safety regulations on topics not already covered by statewide rules.

The justices handed Columbus city officials a major victory by ruling that federal law does not prevent them from regulating tow trucks. The justices overturned two decisions by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had invalidated safety regulations for tow trucks in Columbus and Toledo. The justices rejected an argument by Ours Garage and Wrecker Service of Licking County that federal law deregulating the trucking industry had freed them from being licensed by cities and villages. Ours Garage argued that only states, not cities, could regulate them for safety.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concluded that because Congress did not explicitly exempt tow trucks from local safety regulations, local communities could still require them to be licensed, obtain insurance and follow safety standards. Joining Ginsburg in the majority were Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, John Paul Stevens and Clarence Thomas. Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Antonin Scalia dissented.

By deregulating intrastate trucking in 1994, Congress sought to eliminate the possibility that commercial trucks could face different regulatory schemes on mutes and prices from one municipality to another. But Congress was less clear on whether local governments could still issue safety regulations for trucks, including tow trucks.

The 1994 law asserted that deregulation would "not restrict the safety regulatory authority of a state." Even though the law explicitly mentioned state involvement in safety regulations, it didn't mention local governments. Ginsburg relied on the reasoning of the late Justice Byron White in a 1991 case, Wisconsin Public Intervenor vs. Mortier. White wrote, "We start with the assumption that the historic police powers of the states were not to be superseded by federal law "unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress."

Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia are among the cities that have similar tow-truck rules. Lower courts around the country had split on the validity of those ordinances.

Public Safely/First Amendment: Watchtower Bible & Tract Society vs. Village of Stratton (00-1737).

In an 8-to-1 decision, the high court said a municipal ordinance enforced by the Village of Stratton, Ohio, was unconstitutional because it infringed on the right to free speech and religion by requiring door-to-door "canvassers" to first go to the mayor's office and fill out an application for a free permit.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Supreme Court Roundup: Decisions Involving Tow Truck Regulation, Canvassing Permits, Privacy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?