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Aux Sable Liquid Products v. Murphy

May 19, 2008

AUX SABLE LIQUID PRODUCTS, A DELAWARE LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
KENNETH MURPHY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MONEE TOWNSHIP HIGHWAY COMMISSIONER, MONEE TOWNSHIP, AND MONEE TOWNSHIP HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 06 C 1227-Charles P. Kocoras, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED DECEMBER 5, 2007

Before FLAUM, EVANS, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

This case concerns to what degree the Surface Transportation Assistance Act ("STAA"), which governs access to and from the federal Interstate system, preempts local weight restrictions on bordering roads. Since 2001, loaded trucks leaving a propane loading facility ("the Terminal") owned by Plaintiff Aux Sable Liquid Products reached Interstate 57 ("I-57") via Ridgeland Avenue in Monee Township, Illinois. In 2006, the Monee Township Highway Commissioner, in order to protect Ridgeland Avenue from damage, limited the truck weight on the road to 14 tons, a weight less than that of an unloaded propane truck. Aux Sable then brought suit seeking injunctive relief under the STAA, as codified at 49 U.S.C. § 31114, and under the Illinois Vehicle Code, 625 ILL. COMP. STAT. 5/15 et seq., against Defendants Kenneth Murphy (the Monee Township Highway Commissioner), Monee Township, and the Monee Township Highway Department. Aux Sable also claimed that Defendants should be estopped from changing the weight limits on the road. The district court granted Aux Sable's motion for a preliminary injunction and later granted Aux Sable's motion for summary judgment, finding that the STAA preempted the local weight restrictions placed on Ridgeland Avenue. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm.

I. Background

Plaintiff Aux Sable Liquid Products is the beneficial owner of a propane loading terminal located at the southeast corner of West Steger Road and South Ridgeland Avenue in Monee Township, Will County, Illinois. See Mapquest, Maps, http://www.mapquest.com/maps/ 23313䯤扶ޥ橷縂㊉�ﮭ㣣9293/ (last visited April 28, 2008). The Terminal was constructed in 2000 and began operating in October 2001, and from the outset, Aux Sable devoted attention to how the propane trucks coming to and from the Terminal would access I-57, which runs north and south just east of the Terminal. One route from the Terminal to I-57 is to exit the Terminal onto Steger Road and reach I-57 via the Sauk Trail Road interchange north of the Terminal. A slightly longer route, but still within five miles of I-57, is to leave the Terminal on Ridgeland Avenue proceeding south, entering I-57 on the Monee Manhattan Road interchange. Which route the propane trucks would take, however, depended upon weight restrictions on the roads, since unloaded propane trucks weigh approximately 39,000 pounds, and when fully loaded, can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, the maximum vehicle gross weight permitted on the Interstate system. 23 C.F.R. § 658.17(b). Interstate access via the first route was restricted due to weight limits enforced by Cook County on Steger Road, where loads up to 80,000 were not permitted unless each truck applied for and received a permit for each trip. With respect to the second route, Aux Sable maintains that in June 2000, then-Monee Township Highway Commissioner Wayne Stessen signed a Resolution permitting trucks weighing up to 80,000 pounds to use Ridgeland Avenue. Although Defendants contest the validity of this Resolution, Aux Sable claims that the Terminal was designed with the understanding that unloaded trucks could enter from Steger Road while loaded trucks could exit onto Ridgeland Avenue. Once the Terminal began operating in October 2001, this is in fact what occurred, with loaded trucks leaving the Terminal onto Ridgeland Avenue and entering I-57 via the Monee Manhattan Road interchange.

Truck traffic between the Terminal and I-57 continued in this manner until Ken Murphy became the new Monee Township Highway Commissioner in 2005. In the fall of that year, Murphy informed Aux Sable that he intended to restrict truck traffic on Ridgeland Avenue due to damage the trucks were causing to the road. Then, in February 2006, signs that had been posted in 2004 designating Ridgeland Avenue as a Class II truck route (which under 625 ILL. COMP. STAT. 5/15-111(f) permits loads up to 80,000 pounds) were replaced with signs limiting the truck weight on Ridgeland Avenue to 14 tons. On March 1, Murphy himself instructed the driver of a propane truck on Ridgeland Avenue of the weight limit on the road.

These events spurred Aux Sable to take legal action. On March 3, 2006, Aux Sable brought suit in the Circuit Court for the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois. The suit, which sought injunctive relief, claimed that the weight restriction on Ridgeland Avenue was preempted by the STAA, 49 U.S.C. § 31114, and violated the Illinois Vehicle Code, 625 ILL. COMP. STAT. 5/15 et seq.

Aux Sable also claimed that Defendants should be estopped from changing the weight limits on Ridgeland Avenue since the Terminal was allegedly constructed with the understanding that loaded trucks would be able to exit onto that road. Four days later, Defendants Kenneth Murphy, Monee Township, and the Monee Township Highway Department removed the case to the Northern District of Illinois under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, since the preemption issue concerning the STAA gave rise to federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The district court then granted Aux Sable's motion for a preliminary injunction on March 14, and the parties subsequently filed cross-motions for summary judgment. On December 20, 2006, the district court ruled on these motions, finding that the weight restriction was preempted by the STAA. Based on this finding, the district court enjoined Defendants from prohibiting the Terminal's truck traffic and found it unnecessary to address Aux Sable's estoppel claim or argument that Defendants had violated the Illinois Vehicle Code. Defendants then brought a motion to amend the judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e), arguing that the district court's ruling made the State of Illinois a necessary party to the suit. The district court denied this motion, after which Defendants appealed the district court's summary judgment decision to this Court.

II. Analysis

On appeal, Defendants challenge the district court's grant of summary judgment for Aux Sable on the preemption issue, as well as the district court's denial of summary judgment in Defendants' favor with respect to Aux Sable's claim under the Illinois Vehicle Code and Aux Sable's estoppel argument. This Court reviews a district court's ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment de novo. Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Johnson, 297 F.3d 558, 561 (7th Cir. 2002). Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "With cross-motions, our review of the record requires that we construe all inferences in favor of the party against whom the motion under consideration is made." Hess v. Reg-Ellen Mach. Tool Corp., 423 F.3d 653, 658 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Tegtmeier v. Midwest Operating Eng'rs Pension Trust Fund, 390 F.3d 1040, 1045 (7th Cir. 2004)). Thus, with respect to the preemption claim, all inferences will be construed in favor of Defendants, while for the other two claims, all inferences will be drawn in favor of Aux Sable.

We first turn to the question of whether the local weight restriction on Ridgeland Avenue is preempted by the STAA pursuant to the Supremacy Clause of Article IV of the Constitution. Under the Supremacy Clause, "state laws that 'interfere with, or are contrary to the laws of congress, made in pursuance of the constitution' are invalid." Wisconsin Pub. Intervenor v. Mortier, 501 U.S. 597, 604 (1991) (quoting Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824)). The federal law at issue in this case, the STAA, governs, among other things, access to and from the national Interstate system. 49 U.S.C. § 31114. The relevant text of the statute provides:

(a) Prohibition on denying access. A State may not enact or enforce a law denying to a commercial motor vehicle subject to this subchapter [49 U.S.C.S. §§ 31111 et seq.] or subchapter I of this chapter [49 ...


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