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American Bus Association, Inc. v. District of Columbia

August 19, 2010


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, (CAB6647-07), (Hon. Jeanette Jackson Clark, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thompson, Associate Judge

Argued January 12, 2010

Before REID, BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and THOMPSON, Associate Judges.

This case is a challenge by appellants American Bus Association, Inc., National Tour Association, Inc., and United Motorcoach Association, Inc. (the "Associations"), to the validity of a District of Columbia law that requires any charter bus that enters upon the roadways of this jurisdiction to (1) obtain District of Columbia registration, (2) register on an apportioned basis, reflecting mileage driven in the District of Columbia, or (3) obtain a trip permit, costing $50 and valid for a six-day period. Appellants contend that this scheme discriminates against and unduly burdens interstate commerce and therefore violates the so-called dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. They also argue that the scheme conflicts with the International Registration Plan (the "IRP"), an interstate compact to which the District of Columbia is a signatory. The Superior Court entered summary judgment in favor of appellee District of Columbia (the "District"). We affirm that ruling, agreeing with the Superior Court that appellants have failed to show either a Commerce Clause or an IRP violation.

I. Background

The IRP is an agreement between the 48 contiguous states, the District of Columbia, and ten Canadian provinces.*fn1 To encourage "the fullest use of the highway system," the IRP authorizes apportioned registration of commercial vehicles and requires member jurisdictions to grant vehicle registration reciprocity to any vehicle registered in a vehicle's home ("base") jurisdiction.*fn2

Apportioned registration allows commercial vehicle operators to pay a registration fee to a base jurisdiction, which then allocates and distributes portions of the fee to other jurisdictions in proportion to the miles driven by the vehicle in each jurisdiction.*fn3 The IRP describes in detail the registration and apportionment rules to which IRP members have agreed to adhere with respect to trucks and other apportionable vehicles. As to buses "used in the transportation of chartered parties," the IRP provides that "a bus... may be registered under the Plan at the option of the Registrant." IRP art. II. ("Definitions") ("Apportionable Vehicle").

The District of Columbia became a member of the IRP in 1997 and in the same year adopted implementing legislation. See D.C. Code §§ 50-1507.01--1507.07 (2009). A few years later, the United States Department of Transportation issued a report, the "District of Columbia Tour Bus Management Initiative" (the "TBMI Report"), which recognized the importance of tour buses to the city's economy,*fn4 but also described problems related to tour bus operations.*fn5 The problems the TBMI Report described include air pollution, noise, traffic congestion, traffic safety risks, exacerbation of parking shortages, illegal parking, wear and tear on roadways, and the visual blight occasioned by "wall[s] of buses." Id. at 1. Thereport recommended that the District require permits for tour buses, which it described as "essential to the effective implementation of tour bus management measures" and as a "mechanism for funding measures [such as reasonably priced parking facilities, driver facilities, development of tour bus scheduling and information systems, and designation and enforcement of routing restrictions] that support bus operations and management." Id. at 41--43.

The TBMI report was followed in 2004 by a report of the District of Columbia Office of the Inspector General (the "OIG Report"), based on its audit of IRP participation by the Department of Motor Vehicles.*fn6 The OIG Report noted that "[t]our buses do not pay fees for use of the District's infrastructure" and that the District was "the only IRP jurisdiction of the 59 registered jurisdictions that does not charge a trip permit fee for non-apportioned vehicles" for "access and use of [the] jurisdiction's roads." Id. at i, 3, 6. The report recommended that the District establish and charge "an infrastructure preservation fee for tour bus use of the District of Columbia's roadways and other physical facilities" to "facilitate and accommodate tour buses in the District," id. at ii, and to "pay for the maintenance and servicing of the District's infrastructure." Id. at 5.

In the wake of these reports, the Council of the District of Columbia enacted legislation providing that "[t]he fee for a trip permit shall be $50."*fn7 52 D.C. Reg. 1708 (Feb. 25, 2005); D.C. Code § 50-1507.06 (a) (2009).*fn8 Subsequently, the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles adopted a regulation specifying that "[t]rip permits... shall be valid for a six (6) day period." 18 DCMR 434.1 (2006); 53 D.C. Reg. 848 (Feb. 10, 2006). Thereafter, the Council passed the Department of Motor Vehicles Service and Safety Amendment Act of 2006 (D.C. Law 16-279). See 54 D.C. Reg. 921 (Feb. 2, 2007). Section 403 (a)(3) of that legislation added D.C. Code § 50-1501.02 (j), which specifically addresses charter buses. Section 403 (a)(3) provides that:

(j) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any bus from any state or country used in the transportation of a chartered party, as that term is used in the International Registration Plan, with a seating capacity of greater than 15 passengers shall, prior to entering the District of Columbia, either:

(1) Register as a Class B commercial vehicle under § 50-1501.03 (b)(2);

(2) Obtain proportional registration in its base jurisdiction through the International Registration Plan, as provided by § 50-1507.03; or

(3) Obtain a trip permit....

D.C. Code § 50-1501.02 (j) (2009 & 2009 Supp.).

Appellants are national trade associations whose members include non-District-based charter bus operators whose buses bring passengers into the District of Columbia and thus are subject to the requirements of section 50-1501.02 (j). On July 27, 2007, the Associations filed a petition in the Tax Division of the D.C. Superior Court challenging the validity of section 50-1501.02 (j). After the District took the position that the Tax Division did not have jurisdiction over the matter, the Associations voluntarily dismissed their Tax Division petition and filed a complaint in the Civil Division of the Superior Court on October 2, 2007. They sought a declaratory judgment to the effect that (1) as applied to charter buses registered in other jurisdictions, subsections 50-1501.02 (j)(1) and (j)(3) violate the Commerce Clause; and (2) subsection 50-1501.02 (j)(2) contravenes the IRP. The Associations also ...

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