OCTOBER TERM, 2002
YELLOW TRANSPORTATION, INC. v. MICHIGAN ETAL.
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MICHIGAN
No. 01-270. Argued October 7, 2002-Decided November 5, 2002
Prior to 1994, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) allowed States to charge interstate motor carriers operating within their borders annual registration fees of up to $10 per vehicle. As proof of registration, participating States issued stamps that were affixed to a card carried in each vehicle. Under this so-called "bingo card" system, some States entered into "reciprocity agreements" whereby, in exchange for reciprocal treatment, they discounted or waived registration fees for carriers from other States. In the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), Congress directed the ICC to replace the "bingo card" regime with a new system, the "Single State Registration System," under which a carrier's annual registration with one State that had participated in the "bingo card" system would be deemed to satisfy the registration requirements of all other such States. ISTEA also capped state registration fees by directing the ICC to "establish a fee system ... that ... will result in a fee for each participating State that is equal to the fee, not to exceed $10 per vehicle, that such State collected or charged as of November 15, 1991." 49 U. S. C. § 11506(c)(2)(B)(iv)(III) (1994 ed.), amended and recodified in § 14504(c)(2)(B)(iv)(III). In its final implementing regulations, the ICC ruled that, under the new system, States could not terminate the reciprocity agreements that were in place under the "bingo card" regime. To allow them to do so, the ICC decided, would be inconsistent with ISTEA's fee-cap provision and with the Act's intent that the flow of revenue for the States be maintained while the burden of the registration system for carriers be reduced.
Michigan participated in the "bingo card" regime. For the 1990 and 1991 registration years, the Michigan Public Service Commission did not levy a fee for petitioner's trucks that were licensed in Illinois pursuant to its policy not to charge a fee for vehicles registered in other States that did not charge Michigan-based carriers a fee. In 1991, however, the commission announced a change in its policy, effective February 1, 1992, whereby the commission granted reciprocity treatment based on the policies of the State in which a carrier maintained its principal place of business rather than the State in which individual vehicles were licensed. Because Michigan had no reciprocal arrangement with Kansas,cralaw
where petitioner was headquartered, the Michigan commission levied a fee of $10 per vehicle for the 1992 registration year on petitioner's entire fleet, with payment due on January 1, 1992. Mter paying the fees in October 1991 under protest, petitioner brought suit in the Michigan Court of Claims seeking a refund of the fees it paid for its Illinoislicensed vehicles after the Single State Registration System came into effect. It alleged that, because Michigan had not "collected or charged" a 1991 registration fee for those trucks, ISTEA's fee-cap provision prohibits Michigan from levying a fee for them. The court granted petitioner summary judgment, and the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, concluding that reciprocity agreements are not relevant in determining what fee a State "charged or collected" as of November 15, 1991. Applying Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837, the court determined that the statute unambiguously forbids the ICC's interpretation. Reasoning that the new fee system is based not on the fees collected from one individual company, but on the fee system that the State had in place on November 15, 1991, the court concluded that it must look not at the fees petitioner paid in any given year, but at the generic fee Michigan charged or collected from carriers as of November 15, 1991.
Held: The Michigan Supreme Court erred in holding that, under § 14504(c)(2)(B)(iv)(III), only a State's "generic" fee is relevant to determining the fee that was "collected or charged as of November 15, 1991." States may not renounce or modify a reciprocity agreement so as to alter any fee charged or collected as of that date. Because the ICC's interpretation of ISTEA's fee-cap provision is a permissible reading of the statutory language and reasonably resolves ambiguity therein, the ICC's interpretation must receive deference under Chevron, supra, at 843, and the Michigan Supreme Court erred in declining to enforce it. The fee-cap provision does not foreclose the ICC's determination that fees charged under States' pre-existing reciprocity agreements were, in effect, frozen by the new Single State Registration System. The statutory language "collected or charged" can quite naturally be read to mean fees that a State actually collected or charged. The statute can easily be read as the ICC chose, making it unlawful for a State to renounce or modify a reciprocity agreement so as to alter any fee charged or collected as of November 15, 1991. While the Michigan Supreme Court's reading of the statute might be reasonable, nothing in the statute compels that particular result. The fee-cap provision refers not to a "fee system," but to the "fee ... collected or charged." Under the ICC's rule, where a State waives its registration fee, its "fee ... collected orcralaw