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State v. Bickford

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

May 19, 2015


Argued: October 9, 2014

9th Circuit Court - Manchester District Division

Joseph A. Foster, attorney general (Lisa L. Wolford, assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State.

Brennan, Caron, Lenehan & Iacopino, of Manchester, (Michael J. Iacopino and Jenna M. Bergeron on the brief, and Mr. Iacopino orally), for the defendants.


The defendants, Gerald Mandelbaum, Christopher Lajoie, Nicholas Meuse, Michael Garrity, and Wayne Bickford, were charged with operating a taxicab business without a license from the City of Manchester (City). The Circuit Court (Michael, J.) granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on federal preemption grounds. See 49 U.S.C. §§ 14501(a), (d) (2012). The State appeals, arguing that the local ordinances are not preempted by federal law and that the circuit court has jurisdiction over the charges. We reverse and remand.

The following facts are supported by the record or undisputed by the parties. Mandelbaum owns Amoskeag Airport Service (AAS), a sole proprietorship in Manchester, and Amoskeag Black Car (ABC), a registered trade name for a subdivision of AAS. Mandelbaum operates these businesses pursuant to a motor carrier permit issued by the United States Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that, he asserts, grants him the authority "to engage in the transportation as a common carrier of passengers, in charter and special operations, by motor vehicle in interstate or foreign commerce." Mandelbaum does not, however, hold a City license to operate a taxicab service.

Bickford, Garrity, Lajoie, and Meuse are drivers for AAS and ABC. In March and April of 2013, they were each cited by the Manchester Police for operating a taxicab service in violation of the City's business and taxicab licensing ordinances (City Ordinances). See Manchester, N.H., Rev. Ordinances title XI, ch. 110, § 110.02; id. title XI, ch. 118, §§ 118.01 et seq. (2014). On two occasions, Mandelbaum was also issued a citation for the same reasons.

On July 8, 2013, the defendants moved to dismiss the citations, arguing that: (1) federal law preempts the City Ordinances; (2) Mandelbaum's FMCSA certification divests the City of jurisdiction to regulate AAS or ABC; and (3) neither AAS nor ABC constitutes a taxicab service as defined by statute or ordinance. The State objected and, after a hearing, the trial court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss "without prejudice to the State's right to petition the FMCSA for further review of the defendants' activities." The State filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied. This appeal followed.

Although the parties raise numerous issues, we need only address the following: (1) whether federal law preempts the City Ordinances; and (2) whether federal law requires the State to first bring its complaints before the FMCSA. Because resolution of these issues requires both statutory interpretation and a determination of federal preemption, we review the trial court's decision de novo. Appeal of Bretton Woods Tel. Co., 164 N.H. 379, 386-87 (2012); State v. Merriam, 150 N.H. 548, 549 (2004). When interpreting a statute, we first look to the language of the statute itself, and, if possible, construe that language according to its plain and ordinary meaning. Pelkey v. Dan's City Used Cars, 163 N.H. 483, 487 (2012), aff'd, 133 S.Ct. 1769 (2013). We do not read words or phrases in isolation, but in the context of the entire statutory scheme. Id. When construing federal statutes, we construe them in accordance with federal policy and precedent. Id.

We first consider whether federal law preempts the City Ordinances. State and local laws are preempted when: "(1) Congress expresses an intent to displace state law; (2) Congress implicitly supplants state law by granting exclusive regulatory power in a particular field to the federal government; or (3) state and federal law actually conflict." Disabilities Rights Center, Inc. v. Comm'r, N.H. Dept. of Corrections, 143 N.H. 674, 676 (1999). The federal preemption doctrine is based upon the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. U.S. CONST. art. VI, cl. 2; Arizona v. United States, 132 S.Ct. 2492, 2500 (2012); Appeal of Sinclair Machine Prod's, Inc., 126 N.H. 822, 826 (1985). "Consideration of issues arising under the Supremacy Clause starts with the assumption that the historic police powers of the States are not to be superseded by Federal Act unless that is the clear and manifest purpose of Congress." Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 505 U.S. 504, 516 (1992) (quotation, brackets, and ellipsis omitted). "Accordingly, the purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone of pre-emption analysis." Id. (quotation and brackets omitted).

The defendants do not argue that Congress expressly displaced state law by enacting 49 U.S.C. §§ 14501(a) and 14501(d). Instead, they argue that enforcement of the City Ordinances against them brings state and federal law into conflict, and that when such conflict occurs state law must yield. Specifically, they contend that "[f]ederal law clearly exempts taxicab services from FMCSA regulation" and that "Mandelbaum's business cannot be licensed both under the FMCSA Certificate and local Manchester, NH taxicab ordinances." We disagree.

We first examine the federal statutory scheme upon which the defendants rely. Title 49 U.S.C. §§ 13101 et seq. (2012) govern the federal regulation of interstate transportation provided by motor carriers, water carriers, brokers, and freight forwarders, and seek "[t]o ensure the development, coordination, and preservation of a transportation system that meets the transportation needs of the United States." 49 U.S.C. § 13101(a). In overseeing the transportation of motor carriers of passengers, the federal government endeavors "to cooperate with the States on transportation matters for the purpose of encouraging the States to exercise intrastate regulatory jurisdiction in accordance with the objectives of [49 U.S.C. §§ 13101-14916]." Id. § 13101(a)(3)(A). To achieve these goals, Congress has vested the Secretary of Transportation (Secretary) and the Surface Transportation Board (STB) with jurisdiction "over transportation by motor carrier and the procurement of that transportation, to the extent that passengers . . . are transported by motor carrier" from one state to another or within a single state as long as the transportation, in relevant part, crosses into another state. Id. § 13501(1). Congress has directed the FMCSA to carry out the "duties and powers related to motor carriers or motor carrier safety vested in the Secretary by" the statutes here at issue. Id. § 113(f) (2012).

Congress, however, explicitly denied the federal government jurisdiction over "a motor vehicle providing taxicab service." Id. ยง 13506(a)(2). ...

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