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United States v. Rossetti Brothers Inc.


decided: February 3, 1982.


Appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the District of Vermont (Albert W. Coffrin, Judge ), convicting appellant of violating regulations under the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 C.F.R. § 395.3(a) and (b), and sentencing appellant to pay a fine pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 11914(b). Affirmed.

Before Newman and Kearse, Circuit Judges, and Daly,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Per Curiam

The question before us is whether 49 U.S.C. § 11914(b) (Supp. III 1979) prescribes the penalty for an employer who permits an employee's consecutive hours of driving a motor vehicle to exceed the maximum number permitted by regulations set out at 49 C.F.R. § 395.3(a) and (b) (1980). Appellant, a beverage distributor which operates as a private motor carrier within the meaning of the Interstate Commerce Act, as amended, 49 U.S.C. § 1, et seq.,*fn1 was convicted upon a plea of guilty to an information charging violations of the regulations cited above, and was sentenced pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 11914(b) to pay a fine of $2,200.00. Having reserved its right to appeal, appellant now argues that § 11914(b)"s penalties correspond only to regulations under Subtitle IV of the Act, and that there is no penalty for violating § 395.3(a) or (b), regulations promulgated under Chapter 8 of the Act. We find that 49 U.S.C. § 11914(b) does apply to § 395.3(a) and (b), and affirm the judgment below.

The parties agree that prior to 1978 the penalty for violating 49 C.F.R. § 395.3(a) and (b) was prescribed by 49 U.S.C. § 322(a) (1976). For violation of "any provision of (Chapter 8), or any ... regulation ... thereunder", a fine could be imposed,*fn2 and § 395.3(a) and (b), regulations promulgated under that chapter,*fn3 were clearly within § 322(a)"s scope. However, in its 1978 partial recodification of the Interstate Commerce Act, Congress repealed § 322(a), and enacted § 11914(b) as its replacement.*fn4 That section applies to violations of "a provision of (Subtitle IV) or a regulation or order prescribed under (Subtitle IV)."*fn5

Appellant would have us construe § 11914(b) as narrowly as its language literally reads. We agree with the general principle espoused by appellant that a statute's language is the starting point for a court's inquiry into its meaning, and that " "(w)hen words are free from doubt they must be taken as the final expression of the legislative intent, and are not to be added to or subtracted from by considerations drawn ... from any extraneous source.' " Board of Education v. Harris, 622 F.2d 599, 609 (2nd Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1124, 101 S. Ct. 940, 67 L. Ed. 2d 110 (1981), quoting Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470, 490, 37 S. Ct. 192, 196, 61 L. Ed. 442 (1917). However, we also recognize that a literal reading of the statute would strip regulations § 395.3(a) and (b) of their mandatory character, and would reduce them to precatory provisions, because no statute other than § 11914(b) even arguably defines the punishment for their violation.

Because the bare language leads to such an anomalous result, our task of statutory construction becomes less simple than appellant suggests. Where Congress's purpose is frustrated by a rigid application of statutory language, common sense and evident statutory purpose must inform a court's construction of the statute. In re Adamo, 619 F.2d 216, 222 (2nd Cir.), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 843, 101 S. Ct. 125, 66 L. Ed. 2d 52 (1980).

In the pre-1978 statutory framework, Congress made regulations promulgated under Chapter 8, including § 395.3(a) and (b), enforceable through fines imposed under § 322(a) of Title 49. When Congress repealed § 322(a) and simultaneously enacted § 11914(b) as its replacement, it expressly stated that the recodified provisions "may not be construed as making a substantive change in the laws replaced." Pub.L.No.95-473, § 3(a), 92 Stat. 1466 (1978), 49 U.S.C. at 1404 (Supp. III 1979). Plainly, Congress did not intend its recodification to reduce the reach of § 322(a)"s penalty, but intended merely to transplant that section, renumbered, into the recodified portion of the Act.*fn6 Congressional drafters unfortunately overlooked the limitations of the phrasing chosen for § 11914(b), but, when construed in light of the intent of Congress and in light of common sense, that section clearly applies to the regulations here in question.

We therefore hold that appellant was properly sentenced under 49 U.S.C. § 11914(b) for violating 49 C.F.R. § 395.3(a) and (b), and affirm the judgment of the district court.

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