Supreme Court decides Dan’s City v. Pelkey preemption case in favor of the injured plaintiff

A victory for a plaintiff! The Supreme Court has decided Dans City v Pelkey opinion, unanimously affirming the no-preemption ruling of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Here's the begininng of Justice Ginsburg's opinion, which sums things up nicely:

This case concerns the preemptive scope of a provision of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA or Act) applicable to motor carriers. Codified at 49 U. S. C. §14501(c)(1), the provision reads:

“[A] State . . . may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect oflaw related to a price, route, or service of any motorcarrier . . . with respect to the transportation of property.”

Plaintiff-respondent Robert Pelkey brought suit under New Hampshire law against defendant-petitioner Dan’s City Used Cars (Dan’s City), a towing company. Pelkey al-leged that Dan’s City took custody of his car after towing it without Pelkey’s knowledge, failed to notify him of its plan to auction the car, held an auction despite Pelkey’s communication that he wanted to arrange for the car’s return, and eventually traded the car away without compensating Pelkey for the loss of his vehicle.

Disposal of abandoned vehicles by a “storage company” is regulated by chapter 262 of the New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated. See N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§262:31 to 262:40–c (West 2004 and 2012 West Cum. Supp.). Dan’s City relied on those laws to dispose of Pelkey’s vehicle for nonpayment of towing and storage fees. According to Pelkey, however, Dan’s City failed to comply with New Hampshire’s provisions governing the sale of stored vehicles and the application of sale proceeds. Pelkey charged that Dan’s City’s disposal of his car without following the requirements contained in chapter 262 violated the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act, §358–A:2 (West 2009), as well as Dan’s City’s statutory and common-law duties as bailee to exercise reasonable care while in possession of a bailor’s property.

We hold, in accord with the New Hampshire Supreme Court, that state-law claims stemming from the storageand disposal of a car, once towing has ended, are not sufficiently connected to a motor carrier’s service with respect to the transportation of property to warrant pre-emption under §14501(c)(1). The New Hampshire law in point regulates no towing services, no carriage of property. Instead, it trains on custodians of stored vehicles seeking to sell them. Congress did not displace the State’s regulation of that activity by any federal prescription.

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