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That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles – Court Nixes Forced Michigan Trailer Registrations

November 11, 2006

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Neill T. Riddell

Article Originally Published: November 2006

The information contained in this article is not intended to be legal advice. Readers should not act or rely on this information without consulting an attorney.

“It is the difference between telling a child that she may eat a cookie anywhere she chooses so long as she properly purchased the cookie from any store; and telling a child she may only eat a cookie in the store it was purchased from.”

OK. Maybe it is not quite what we normally expect from legal prose. And, maybe your first reaction is “huh?”

But, with words such as these, Judge William E. Collette of the Ingham Circuit Court has told the State of Michigan to get its hand out of the cookie jar, and to stop trying to force Michigan domiciled carriers to plate trailers under the state’s one-time registration scheme rather than under other states’ less expensive registration plans.

The dispute before Judge Collette traces its origins back to October 10, 2003. Previously, trailer plates could be purchased on a 6 or 12-month basis. But starting on that date, the revenue hungry state implemented 2 significant changes: increased registration fees and permanent, non-transferable plates.

Even before this change, it had been common practice to plate trailers in states having less expensive fees. The new plan jacked up the cost difference between Michigan and non-Michigan trailer registrations, however, and increasing numbers of equipment owners began to investigate options for registering trailers in other states.

The state sought to counter the loss of revenue represented by increased non-Michigan registrations through enforcement of provisions of the state’s motor vehicle code which require all Michigan domiciled equipment to carry Michigan plates, subject only to limited exceptions not applying to the typical trucking company.

But there was one thing that the state had forgotten, and the carriers had not.

That was the IRP.

Michigan has long been a signatory to the IRP. Continued participation, while not mandated, is fairly well assured by the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Act of 1991 which conditions a state’s right to maintain or enforce any commercial vehicle registration law on IRP participation.

Before Judge Collette, carriers relied on a very special provision of the IRP in their attempt to secure an order stopping the state from declaring illegal any and all non-Michigan trailer registrations. IRP section 404 expressly provides that trailers “properly registered in any member jurisdiction and used, moved or operated in accordance with this section shall be granted full and free reciprocity” and that this reciprocity “shall apply to both interjursidictional and intrajurisdictional movement or operation . …”

Judge Collette, apparently a sharp cookie himself, recognized that one consequence of allowing Michigan to side-step these IRP reciprocity provisions would be to open the door to all states claiming the right to do that which Michigan had done, mandating local registrations, all contrary to the IRP’s singular purpose of eliminating the patchwork of individual state registration requirements.

Seeing this, the Judge directed that the state abandon its existing enforcement policy, bringing it in line with IRP reciprocity.

End of story?

Well, for now. But the state has appealed. Briefs are right now being filed and oral argument, which is almost invariably granted upon request, has indeed been requested.