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Click here for the full text of this decision No. 05-03-01801-CV, 06-08-2005. FACTS:Cinthia Salazar offered to drive an elderly woman home from the grocery store. When she got to the woman’s apartment, she displayed a handicap placard, but she did not park in a marked spot. Salazar left the car unattended for about 20 minutes while she helped the woman carry her groceries into her apartment. When Salazar returned, her car was gone. A.J.’s Wrecker Services of Dallas Inc. notified Salazar by mail that it had her car. When several attempts to get her car back failed, Salazar went to court. Nonetheless, A.J.’s defied two court orders to return the car. It took the county constable’s intervention for Salazar to get her car back from A.J.’s, approximately 60 days after it had been towed. Salazar sued A.J.’s for violations of the Transportation Code and city ordinances, negligence per se, promissory estoppel, negligent hiring, waiver, abuse of process, equitable estoppel, conversion, civil theft and trespass to chattel. A.J.’s filed a plea to the jurisdiction and a motion for summary judgment, both based on the ground that Salazar’s claim was preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995, 14501. The trial court agreed that preemption applied to all but three of the claims. The three remaining claims — civil theft, conversion and trespass to chattel — went to trial, which resulted in a verdict for Salazar. A.J.’s appeals the judgment on the remaining three claims. HOLDING:Set aside and dismissed. The court explains that the ICCTA generally prohibits states from enacting or enforcing any law that relates to price, route or service of motor carriers. Section 14501 says that tow jobs without prior consent are generally exempt from the prohibition. The court acknowledges an earlier opinion, Whitten v. Vehicle Removal Corp., 56 S.W. 293 (Tex.App. Dallas 2001, pet. denied), which held that the exemption didn’t apply when the subject matter of the suit was a violation of the statutes regulating the towing industry. The court thus seeks to determine whether Salazar’s causes of action constitute enforcement of a state law related to A.J.’s services. The court rejects Salazar’s “narrow” interpretation of the statute to mean that “related to the services” of a motor carrier should be interpreted as meaning relating to a towing company’s proper, and not wrongful services. Trespass to chattel, conversion, and civil theft have elements closely related to A.J.’s nonconsensual towing service, the court finds. Towing cars without the owners consent is one of the services A.J.’s provides. “Moreover, the regulatory impact of these causes of action could be significant. If these claims are allowed to proceed, [A.J.'s] conceivably could be hauled into court to defend its actions every time it tows a car without the owner’s consent. This constitutes regulation of motor carriers through enforcement of state laws. Allowing these causes of action to proceed against motor carriers has the potential to frustrate the purpose of the preemption statute – economic deregulation. We conclude Salazar’s claims are preempted because they constitute enforcement of state law related to the towing service provided by [A.J.'s].” The court takes note of a “safety exception” discussed in the Whitten opinion, but the court finds that the exception is not controlling, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Columbus v. Ours Garage and Wrecker Service Inc., 536 U.S. 424 (2002). Even if it did apply, the court says it would not apply here, as the exception is only for specific legislation directed at motor carriers, not for general causes of action, as Salazar has alleged. OPINION:Carolyn Wright, J.; Wright, FitzGerald, and Lang-Miers, JJ.

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