This case concerned the reach of federal law over intrastate commerce. At issue is the claim by the plaintiffs Mr. and Mrs. Barton that the limousine ride they took from Sunderland, MA, to Logan (where they took a plane to Jamaica) was in interstate commerce. An accident occurred during the trip, allegedly resulting in injuries to Mrs. Barton. If it had been determined that the ride indeed was in interstate commerce, federal law governing passenger motor carriers would have applied, and the limousine company’s insurer—Arbella—could have been liable to pay any judgment the Barton’s win up to $1.5 million, a much higher limit than that which would apply under state law.
The Bartons argued that the limousine ride was in interstate commerce because (a) the limo had been used in interstate commerce routinely before they used it, (b) the limo was in any case available for interstate commerce; and (c) their limo ride was part of their trip to Jamaica. (Apparently, they carried on with their trip despite Mrs. Barton’s alleged injuries.) Arbella, the party NELF intended to support, prevailed in the trial court. However, in NELF’s view, the trial court’s decision, while correct in result, was erroneous in reasoning. Because of the economic and regulatory importance of the case, NELF’s planned to file an amicus brief so that the correct reasoning could be presented to the Appeals Court in order to ensure that the trial court’s decision would be upheld and sound precedent established.
In the brief that NELF drafted, it argued that federal law mandates, and therefore exclusively governs, the interstate-travel insurance endorsement under which the Bartons sought to recover. The trip was not in interstate commerce because, according to unanimous federal case law, that determination is to be made based on the use of the vehicle as of the time of the accident. NELF pointed out in its brief that trips to an airport, like the Bartons’, lack “integral” ties to interstate commerce and have been repeatedly found by state and federal courts to be entirely intrastate under the holding of United States v. Yellow Cab Co., 332 U.S. 218 (1947).
Unfortunately, one week before NELF’s fully completed brief was due to be filed, we were informed by Arbella’s counsel that the case had settled. Accordingly, NELF’s brief was not filed.