Connecticut court rules on nonconsensual towing

By Bob Pitcher, State Laws Newsletter.

The Connecticut Supreme Court has held that federal law did not preempt various aspects of the state’s regulation of nonconsensual towing. The plaintiff towing company had been called by the state police to remove a disabled trailer from the highway following a traffic accident. For its services, it had charged the trailer’s owner some $16,700.

On the owner’s appeal to the state regulator, all but less than $4,000 had been disallowed. In court, the plaintiff argued that federal law, 49 U.S. Code section 14501(c)(2)(C) – often referred to as FAAAA, preempted the state’s power to regulate all or part of the services it had provided.

The FAAAA generally preempts state authority to regulate the prices, routes, or services of motor carriers, but contains an exception for “transportation by a tow truck” in nonconsensual towing. The trial court found that the state could regulate the charge for the actual movement of the damaged trailer itself, but was preempted from regulating the provision of pre- and post-tow services, including storage of the trailer until its owner reclaimed it.

The state Supreme Court, however, ruled that state regulation of all aspects of nonconsensual towing was allowable under the FAAAA, since the Act was intended by Congress to be read broadly in this respect. (Modzelewski’s Towing & Recovery, Inc. v. Comm’r of Motor Vehicles, docket no. SC 19453.)