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U.S. Supreme Court

Raymond Motor Transportation, Inc. v. Rice, 434 U.S. 429 (1978)

Raymond Motor Transportation, Inc. v. Rice

No. 76-558

Argued November 8-9, 1977

Decided February 21, 1978

434 U.S. 429


Wisconsin statutes, as a general rule, do not allow trucks longer than 55 feet or pulling more than one other vehicle to be operated on highways within that State without a permit. Implementing regulations set forth the conditions under which "trailer train" and other classes of permits will be issued, and contain a great number of exceptions to the general rule. Appellant motor carriers were denied permits to operate 65-foot double trailer units on certain interstate highways in Wisconsin on the ground that their proposed operations were not within the narrow scope of the regulations specifying 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 their operation of 65-foot doubles burdened and discriminated against interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause. At the trial, appellants presented extensive, uncontradicted evidence that the 65-foot doubles are as safe as, if not safer than, 55-foot singles when operated on limited-access, four-lane divided highways, and also presented uncontradicted evidence that their operations are disrupted, their costs raised, and their service slowed by the challenged regulations because they are forced to haul doubles across the State separately or around the State or to incur delays caused by using singles, instead of doubles, to pick up and deliver goods, and are prevented from accepting interline transfers of 65-foot doubles. In addition, appellants' evidence showed that Wisconsin routinely allows a great number and variety of vehicles over 55 feet long to operate on state highways. A three-judge court ruled against appellants.

Held: On the record, the challenged regulations violate the Commerce Clause because they place a substantial burden on interstate commerce and make no more than the most speculative contribution to highway safety. The great number of exceptions to the general 55-foot rule, and especially those that discriminate in favor of local industry, weaken the presumption of validity in favor of the general limit because they undermine the assumption that the State's

Page 434 U. S. 430

own political processes will act as a check on local regulations that unduly burden interstate commerce. Pp. 434 U. S. 439-448.

417 F.Supp. 1352, reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined except STEVENS, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 434 U. S. 448.

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