US Supreme Court Will Hear Appeal in New Hampshire Trucking Case

December 19, 2012

With support from DRM colleagues in Vermont and New Hampshire, Attorney Kate Strickland of Downs Rachlin Martin will argue an appeal before the United States Supreme Court in March.

(St. Johnsbury, VT)  The court will decide whether federal law deregulating the trucking industry preempts claims based on state laws regulating the sale and disposal of a towed vehicle.

Attorney Katherine Strickland In the underlying case, a landlord had an apartment-dweller’s vehicle towed to enforce the landlord’s winter parking policy. When the vehicle owner did not claim the vehicle within thirty days, the towing company sent a certified letter to the vehicle’s owner advising that it had the vehicle and considered it abandoned. The letter was returned by the post office, and the box “moved, left no address,” was checked. 

Two days before the auction at which the vehicle was to be sold for unpaid towing and storage fees, the vehicle owner, through his counsel, advised the towing company that the owner had not abandoned his vehicle, and wanted to reclaim it. The vehicle owner later took the position that he should not have to pay any storage fees,  and the towing company eventually traded it.  When the vehicle owner received no compensation for his vehicle, he sued both the landlord and the towing company.

The towing company moved to dismiss the claims brought against it, arguing that the owner’s state-based claims are preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, which includes provisions deregulating the trucking industry. On appeal, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that the owner’s state law claims against the tow truck company were not preempted by federal law.  In prior decisions in similar cases, the Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reached a different conclusion. The Supreme Court will consider the matter in March.

Strickland practices in Vermont and New Hampshire and is a member of the firm’s Litigation Practice Group. The legal team also includes DRM Director Andre Bouffard, an appellate litigator working from the firm’s Burlington Office. The United States Supreme Court agrees to hear less than one percent of the cases it is asked to hear.

DRM is a full-service law firm with more than 60 attorneys and six offices in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. DRM provides legal services to local, national and international clients in practice areas that include bankruptcy and business restructuring, business law, captive insurance, energy and telecommunications, health law, intellectual property, labor and employment, litigation, real estate and land use, environmental law, tax law and trusts and estates. The firm represents clients in legislative, regulatory and public affairs through the Government and Public Affairs group.

DRM is the exclusive member firm in Vermont for Lex Mundi - the world's leading network of independent law firms with in-depth experience in 100+ countries worldwide.

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