479 U. S. 450
January 20, 1987
The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) had the authority to exempt interstate railways from state regulations. This exempting authority did not, however, reach intrastate motor transportation. Three interstate railroads provided intrastate services where railway owned trucks would drive onto railroad flatcars. The flatcars would then go to another location, where the trucks would drive off to a final destination. The ICC exempted these entire transportation relays from state regulation, but Texas contended that it had the authority to regulate the truck driving sections, since they were intrastate and involved motor vehicles.
Stevens wrote for a unanimous Court, finding that the ICC’s authority extended to the non-railroad portions of the transportation scheme. Key was that the railroads actually owned the trucks that drove on the road. The statute which granted the ICC its exempting authority directly said that it could exempt “transportation that is provided by a rail carrier as a part of a continuous intermodal movement.” Because the railroads actually provided the trucks, the road portions of the transportation could be exempted. Agency practice and the apparent intent of Congress to benefit railroad companies both buttressed the Court’s holding.
As is usually the case with unanimous opinions so far, I find myself wanting to read a dissent. The Stevens opinion is probably correct in its ultimate conclusion, and I’m all for exempting railroads from unnecessary state regulations, but I’m not 100% sold that the ICC truly had adequate statutory authority.