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February 21, 1978



Burger, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Powell, Rehnquist, Stevens; Blackmun took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Author: Powell

[ 434 U.S. Page 430]

 MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

We consider on this appeal whether administrative regulations of the State of Wisconsin governing the length and configuration of trucks that may be operated within the State violate the Commerce Clause because they unconstitutionally burden or discriminate against interstate commerce. The three-judge District Court held that the regulations are not unconstitutional on either ground. Because we conclude that they unconstitutionally burden interstate commerce, we reverse.


Appellant Raymond Motor Transportation, Inc. (Raymond), a Minnesota corporation with its principal place of business in

[ 434 U.S. Page 431]

     Minneapolis, is a common carrier of general commodities by motor vehicle. Operating pursuant to a certificate of public convenience and necessity granted by the Interstate Commerce Commission, see 49 U.S.C. §§ 306-308, Raymond provides service in eastern North Dakota, Minnesota, northern Illinois, and northwestern Indiana. Its primary interstate route is between Chicago and Minneapolis. It does not serve any points in Wisconsin.

Appellant Consolidated Freightways Corporation of Delaware (Consolidated), a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Menlo Park, Cal., also is a common carrier of general commodities by motor vehicle. Consolidated operates nationwide, providing service under a certificate of public convenience and necessity in 42 States and Canada. Among other routes, Consolidated carries commodities between Chicago, Detroit, and points east, and Minneapolis and points west to Seattle. Unlike Raymond, Consolidated does carry commodities between Wisconsin and other States, and it maintains terminals in Milwaukee and Madison where truckloads of goods are dispatched and received.

Both Raymond and Consolidated use two different kinds of trucks. One consists of a three-axle power unit (tractor) which pulls a single two-axle trailer that is 40 feet long. The overall length of such a single-trailer unit (single) is 55 feet. This unit has been used on the Nation's highways for many years and is an industry standard. The other type truck consists of a two-axle tractor which pulls a single-axle trailer to which a single-axle dolly and a second single-axle trailer are attached. Each trailer is 27 feet long, and the overall length of such a double-trailer unit (double) is 65 feet.*fn1

The double, which has come into increasing use in recent years, is thought to have certain advantages over the single

[ 434 U.S. Page 432]

     for general commodities shipping.*fn2 Because of these advantages, Raymond would prefer to use doubles on its route between Chicago and Minneapolis. Consolidated would prefer to use doubles on its routes between Chicago, Detroit, and points east, and Minneapolis and points west, as well as on its routes commencing and ending in Milwaukee and Madison. The most direct route for all of this traffic is over Interstate Highways 90 and 94, both of which cross Wisconsin between Illinois and Minnesota. State law allows 65-foot doubles to be operated on interstate highways and access roads in Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, and all of the States west from Minnesota to Washington through which Interstate Highways 90 and 94 run.

Wisconsin law, however, generally does not allow trucks longer than 55 feet to be operated on highways within that State. The key statutory provision is Wis. Stat. § 348.07(1) (1975), which sets a limit of 55 feet on the overall length of a vehicle pulling one trailer.*fn3 Any person operating a single-trailer unit of greater length must obtain a permit issued by the State Highway Commission. In addition, § 348.08(1)

[ 434 U.S. Page 433]

     provides that no vehicle pulling more than one other vehicle shall be operated on a highway without a permit.*fn4

The Commission is authorized to issue various classes of annual permits for the operation of vehicles that do not conform to the above requirements. In particular, it may issue "trailer train" permits for the operation of combinations of more than two vehicles "consisting of truck tractors, trailers, semitrailers or wagons which do not exceed a total length of 100 feet," § 348.27(6).*fn5 The Commission may also "impose

[ 434 U.S. Page 434]

     such reasonable conditions" and "adopt such reasonable rules" of operation with respect to vehicles operated under permit "as it deems necessary for the safety of travel and protection of the highways," § 348.25(3), including specification of the routes to be used by permittees.

The Commission has issued administrative regulations setting forth the conditions under which "trailer train" and other classes of permits will be issued. Although the Commission is empowered by § 348.27(6) to issue "trailer train" permits to operate double-trailer trucks up to 100 feet long, its regulations restrict such permits to "the operation of vehicles used for the transporting of municipal refuse or waste, or for the interstate or intra-state operation without load of vehicles in transit from manufacturer or dealer to purchaser or dealer, or for the purpose of repair." Wis. Admin. Code § Hy 30.14(3)(a) (July 1975). "Trailer train" permits also are issued "for the operation of a combination of three vehicles used for the transporting of milk from the point of production to the point of first processing," § Hy 30.18(3)(a) (June 1976).


The overture to this lawsuit began when Raymond and Consolidated each applied to the appropriate Wisconsin

[ 434 U.S. Page 435]

     officials under § 348.27(6) for annual permits to operate 65-foot doubles on Interstate Highways 90 and 94 between Illinois and Minnesota and, in Consolidated's case, on short stretches of four-lane divided highways between the interstate highways and freight terminals in Milwaukee and Madison.*fn6 The permits were denied because appellants' proposed operations were not within the narrow scope of the administrative regulations that specify when "trailer train" permits will be issued. Appellants then filed suit in Federal District Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on the ground that the regulations barring the proposed operation of 65-foot doubles burden and discriminate against interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause, Art. I, § 8, cl. 3.*fn7 The complaint alleged that the State's refusal to issue the requested permits disrupts and delays appellants' transportation of commodities in interstate commerce; that 65-foot doubles are as safe as, if not safer than, the 55-foot singles that are allowed to operate on Wisconsin highways without permits; and that the maze of statutory and administrative exceptions to the general prohibition against operating vehicles longer than 55 feet results in "'over-length' permits [being] routinely granted to classes of vehicles indistinguishable from those of the Plaintiffs in terms of size, safety, and divisibility of loads...." App. 18.

A three-judge District Court was convened pursuant to 28

[ 434 U.S. Page 436]

     U.S.C. § 2281.*fn8 After a pretrial conference, the court directed the State to file an amended answer setting forth every justification for its refusal to issue the permits sought, "such as safety, for example." App. 25. The State's amended answer advanced highway safety as its sole justification. Id., at 27-29. By agreement of the parties, the case was tried on affidavits, depositions, and exhibits.

Appellants presented a great deal of evidence supporting their allegation that 65-foot doubles are as safe as, if not safer than, 55-foot singles when operated on limited-access, four-lane divided highways. For example, the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety, Federal Highway Administration, United States Department of Transportation, testified on deposition that the Bureau's five-year study of the accident experience of selected motor carriers that use both types of trucks showed that doubles are safer than singles in terms of the number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities per 100,000 miles, and in terms of the amount of property damage and number of injuries and fatalities per accident. The deponent's own expert opinion was that doubles are safer because of the articulation between the first and second trailers, which allows greater maneuverability and prevents the back wheels of the second trailer from deviating from the path of the ...

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