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Midwest Crane & Rigging, LLC v. Kansas Corporation Commission

Supreme Court of Kansas

July 21, 2017

Midwest Crane & Rigging, LLC, Appellant,
v.
Kansas Corporation Commission, Appellee.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         A crane permanently bolted to a truck chassis and associated necessary tools do not qualify as cargo under 49 U.S.C. § 31101(1) (2012), and the truck itself thus does not qualify as a commercial motor vehicle under the federal Unified Carrier Registration Act.

         Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion filed August 5, 2016. Appeal from Shawnee District Court; Rebecca W. Crotty, judge. Judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the district court is reversed. Judgment of the district court is reversed.

          Kurt S. Brack, of MDP Services, LLC, of Overland Park, argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellant.

          Dustin Lee Kirk, deputy general counsel, Kansas Corporation Commission, argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellee.

          OPINION

          Beier, J.

         This appeal concerns whether a truck with a crane permanently attached to it qualifies as a commercial vehicle subject to registration and fee payment under the federal Unified Carrier Registration Act (UCR). See 49 U.S.C. § 14504a (2012). The answer to this question turns on whether the crane and associated tools qualify as "cargo, " as that term is used in the Act. Because the crane and associated tools are not cargo, the truck is not a commercial vehicle subject to the registration and fee requirements.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Appellant Midwest Crane & Rigging, LLC, is a contractor that provides a "crane service." One of its employees was stopped by Kansas Highway Patrol Master Trooper Christopher Beas. Beas had noticed that the truck the employee was driving did not have a license plate. He identified the truck as part of Midwest's fleet, photographed the truck, documented the stop, and identified two possible violations: (1) failure to pay a UCR fee, and (2) failure to display a current license plate.

         The truck's only purpose was to provide the crane service. It has a crane permanently attached to its chassis. The driver was headed to a job site where the crane was to be used to hoist a large air conditioning unit onto the roof of a building. Otherwise the truck carried only the tools necessary to operate the crane, such as cables, shackles, and a spreader beam.

         The license plate violation was dismissed after Midwest established that the truck was exempt from registration requirements, because it is classified as a self-propelled crane. See K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 8-128(b); State v. Zeit, 39 Kan.App.2d 364, 180 P.3d 1068 (2008). But the UCR issue remained, and the Kansas Corporation Commission fined Midwest $300 for failure to register and pay the fee required by the Act. See 49 U.S.C. § 14504a(a)(1)(A)(ii).

         Midwest requested a hearing to challenge the UCR violation.

         The resulting administrative hearing focused on whether the truck qualified as a commercial motor vehicle under the Act, which requires a "motor carrier" to pay a fee based on the size of its fleet of "commercial motor vehicles." The debate largely centered on the meaning of "cargo, " as used in the definition of "commercial motor vehicle" under the Act. See 49 U.S.C. § 31101(1) (2012) ("'commercial motor vehicle' means . . . a self-propelled or towed vehicle used on the highways in commerce principally to transport passengers or cargo" [emphasis added]).

         The Act is included as a part of the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act (MCSIA). The Commission considered not only the definition of commercial motor vehicle from the UCR but also a second definition of commercial motor vehicle from a different subsection of the MCSIA. See 49 U.S.C. § 31132(1) (2012) (subchapter III- Safety Regulations: "'commercial motor vehicle' means a ...


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