from a judgment of the circuit court for Waukesha County No.
2017CV859: MICHAEL J. APRAHAMIAN, Judge.
Neubauer, C.J., Reilly, P.J., and Gundrum, J.
Town of Delafield appeals from the circuit court's
dismissal of a citation issued to Central Transport Kriewaldt
for operating a semi-truck on a Town road in excess of the
Town's posted, seasonal weight restriction. Although the
circuit court acknowledged there was no dispute the truck
exceeded the weight limit, the court dismissed the citation
on the basis that the restriction was preempted by federal
law. We reverse and remand.
On Friday, March 4, 2016, the Town posted road signs
identifying its seasonal weight restriction prohibiting
vehicles over six tons from driving on designated roads.
Three days later, a Central Transport driver delivering art
supplies to a Town resident drove a semi-truck in excess of
six tons on one of the designated roads. The truck got stuck
in a ditch, blocking traffic, and was eventually towed out by
the Town's highway department. A sheriff's deputy
issued Central Transport a citation for operating a vehicle
on the road in excess of the posted weight limit, in
violation of Town of Delafield, Wis., Ordinance § 7.01
(2010), adopting Wis.Stat. § 348.17(1)
Following a court trial, the circuit court granted Central
Transport's motion to dismiss the citation on the basis
that the seasonal weight restriction did not allow Central
Transport reasonable access to its Town customer and thus was
preempted by federal law, specifically 49 U.S.C. §
31114(a) (2018) of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act
(STAA). The Town appeals.
The circuit court granted Central Transport's motion to
dismiss the citation in light of the facts the court found
following the trial. When facts are derived from a trial to
the court, we will not disturb the court's findings
unless they are clearly erroneous. See Wis. Stat.
§ 805.17(2). Whether federal preemption applies,
however, is a question of federal law we review de novo.
Partenfelder v. Rohde, 2014 WI 80, ¶25, 356
Wis.2d 492, 850 N.W.2d 896. Preemption occurs in three
instances: (1) "when Congress expressly sets forth a
law's preemptive effect," (2) "when there is a
reasonable inference that the subject matter of the law in
question is in a field in which Congress intended federal law
to have exclusive application," and (3) "when state
law conflicts with federal law." Id., ¶26.
Here, the parties focus on the third instance-whether
Wis.Stat. § 348.17(1) and Town of Delafield, Wis.,
Ordinance § 7.01, as applied, conflict with federal
law-so we will as well. The interpretation and application of
federal law to a set of facts is a question of law we review
independently. City of Weyauwega v. Wisconsin Cent.,
Ltd., 2018 WI.App. 65, ¶¶10-11, 384 Wis.2d
382, 919 N.W.2d 609.
Central Transport does not dispute that it violated the Town
ordinance, which adopted Wis.Stat. § 348.17(1). Section
No person … shall operate a vehicle in violation of
special weight limitations imposed by state or local
authorities on particular highways, highway structures or
portions of highways when signs have been erected as required
by [Wis. Stat. §] 349.16(2) giving notice of such weight
limitations, except when the vehicle is being operated under
a permit expressly authorizing such weight limitations to be
Transport states that "[o]n its face" §
348.17(1) "does not contradict" the STAA,
specifically 49 U.S.C. § 31114(a), or the related
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regulation 23 C.F.R.
§ 658.19 (2018). It asserts, however, that a conflict
arose in this case because the federal provisions
"protect Central Transport's reasonable access to a
terminal/delivery address," but the Town's
application of § 348.17(1) through its weight
restriction "denied Central Transport all
access from the interstate to its
terminal." (Emphasis added.) The record indicates
Section 31114(a) of Title 49 of the United States Code
provides: "Prohibition on denying access. A State may
not enact or enforce a law denying to a commercial motor
vehicle subject to this subchapter or subchapter 1 of this
chapter reasonable access" between the
Interstate and a terminal. (Emphasis added.) Similarly,
§ 658.19 of Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations
provides in relevant part: "No State may enact or
enforce any law denying reasonable access to
vehicles with dimensions authorized by the STAA between the
[Interstate] and terminals." (Emphasis added.) Congress
did not define "reasonable access." As one court
has observed, "[d]espite their awareness that the
resulting 'nonuniformity of access has become a
considerable burden for trucking companies,' Congress did
nothing to change the reasonable access provisions of the law
to provide for a uniform, national definition of reasonable
access." Consolidated Freightways Corp. v.
Larson, 647 F.Supp. 1479, 1483-84 (M.D. Pa. 1986)
(citation omitted). We reverse and remand because we conclude
that the manner in which the Town applied Wis.Stat. §
348.17(1) and Town ordinance § 7.01 afforded Central
Transport "reasonable access" and thus is not
preempted by the STAA or the FHWA regulation.
At the trial on Central Transport's citation, the
Town's highway superintendent testified that the six-ton
weight limit is only in place on certain Town roads "for
a short amount of time" during the "spring
thaw," in order to limit heavy vehicles on the roads
when the roads are "very vulnerable" to damage from
the weight "because all the ground is not thawed so the
roads are soft." The superintendent personally
determines when the weight restriction should be posted and
later removed, which determinations are based upon his direct
examination of the roads, including "movement" he
observes and "frost coming out of the grounds and
cracks." Once the roads are settled, he "pull[s]
the weight limits." He testified that he utilized this
process in March 2016, the time relevant to ...