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Nationwide Freight Systems, Inc., Leader Us Messenger, Incorporated v. Illinois Commerce Commission

November 26, 2012

NATIONWIDE FREIGHT SYSTEMS, INC., LEADER US MESSENGER, INCORPORATED, AND STOTT CONTRACTING, LLC, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ILLINOIS COMMERCE COMMISSION, THOMAS BAUDINO, CRAIG BANER,*FN1 AND LATRICE KIRKLAND-MONTAGUE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, Chief Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Nationwide Freight Systems, Inc. ("Nationwide"), Leader U.S. Messenger, Incorporated ("Leader") and Stott Contracting, LLC ("Stott") (collectively "Plaintiffs") are motor carriers that have been separately investigated, charged, and assessed monetary penalties by defendant the Illinois Commerce Commission ("ICC") in administrative proceedings. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief in this court against the ICC and its agents, defendants Thomas Baudino ("Baudino"), Craig Baner ("Baner"), and Latrice Kirkland-Montague ("Kirkland-Montague"), including a finding that the ICC's investigations and related requests for documents are preempted by 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c) and an order from this court nullifying the ICC's findings and orders, barring the ICC from assessing penalties against Plaintiffs, and barring further investigation of the Plaintiffs by the ICC regarding "anything other than compliance with insurance requirements or demonstrated safety issues affecting those motor carriers." (Dkt. No. 1 ("Compl.") at 8.)*fn2

Pending before the court is a "Motion to Dismiss" filed by the ICC, Baudino, and Kirkland-Montaque (collectively "the ICC Defendants"). (Dkt. No. 14.) For the reasons set forth below, the ICC Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs allege that each motor carrier "was the subject of an investigation, hearing and determination by the [ICC]," and that "[t]he pleadings and orders were essentially the same in each case." (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 8.) For purposes of this background section, the court relies in part on Plaintiffs' Exhibits 1-6, which are attached to the Complaint as "typical" examples of documents related to the relevant ICC investigations and proceedings. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c) ("A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is a part of the pleading for all purposes."). At this stage of the litigation, the court accepts the factual allegations of the Complaint as true. Wigod v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 673 F.3d 547, 555 (7th Cir. 2012).

The ICC's interactions with each of the Plaintiffs began when ICC Police Officer Baudino issued each motor carrier a citation "for operating as an intrastate motor carrier of property without a license from the Commission in violation of 625 ILCS 5/18c-4104(1)(A)."

(Pls.' Ex. 3 at p. 19 of 54 & p. 28 of 54.)*fn3 Although each Plaintiff motor carrier thereafter obtained a public carrier certificate from the ICC and paid the associated fine before any hearing was held, these initial citations nevertheless prompted the ICC to initiate investigations against each of the individual motor carriers. (Id.)

As part of the investigations, Officer Baudino initially requested that the motor carriers produce "records we need in order to complete our investigation into your company's motor carrier operations" under 625 ILCS 5/18c-1703(2)(b). (Pls.' Ex. 1 at p. 4 of 54.) Officer Baudino's request was followed by a formal "order" from the ICC Chief of Police, then Odie Carpenter, "to produce documents and records regarding your company's transportation operations within Illinois (for example, bills of lading, driver logs, invoices, pick-up tickets, etc.)" for the relevant time period. (Id.; see also Compl. ¶ 10.)Plaintiffs objected to the ICC's requests for documents, in part on the grounds that the requests were preempted by 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c). (Pls.' Ex. 1 at p. 3 of 54; Compl. ¶ 10.)

Plaintiffs were thereafter cited with violating 625 ILCS 5/18c-4104-1-k, which prohibits operating as a motor carrier in violation of ICC regulations and orders, because of their alleged "Fail[ure] to provide records upon demand." (Pls.' Ex. 2 at p. 6 of 54 & p. 9 of 54.) Plaintiffs objected to the citations and filed their respective motions to dismiss, again arguing that the ICC's requests for documents were preempted by 49 U.S.C. § 14501. (Pls.' Ex. 2 at p. 6-7 of 54; Compl. ¶ 11.) On January 19, 2012, Chief Administrative Law Judge Kirkland-Montague found each of the Plaintiffs guilty of the violations charged, and ordered each motor carrier to pay a $500 civil penalty. (Pls.' Ex 4 at p. 32-34 of 54; Compl. ¶ 13.)

In a combined petition for rehearing, Plaintiffs argued in part that "the administrative law judge failed or refused to address and correctly decide that the requests for documents which were the subject of the hearings in these cases were pre-empted by 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)." (Pls.' Ex. 5 at p. 38-54; Compl. ¶ 14.) On March 21, 2012, the ICC "in Session this date" summarily denied Plaintiffs' petition for rehearing. (Pls.' Ex. 6; Compl. ¶ 15.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires complaints to include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). In other words, the complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). To survive a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 694 F.3d 873, 885 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

The federal statute at issue in this case generally provides, with certain exceptions explained below, that States "may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier . . . with ...


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