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Kansas court defines 'cargo' in Midwest Crane & Rigging appeal of fine

By Christopher Mobley | Jul 31, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (Legal Newsline) – The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that a crane permanently bolted to a truck chassis does not qualify as cargo, nor does it make the truck a commercial motor vehicle under the Unified Carrier Registration Act.

The court issued its decision July 21 in an appeal filed by Midwest Crane & Rigging that concerned whether a truck that had a crane permanently attached to it qualifies as a commercial vehicle and whether the attached crane and associated tools qualify as “cargo." If they did qualify, it meant that the vehicle would have been subject to registration and fee payments under the federal Unified Carrier Registration Act.

The appellant, Midwest Crane & Rigging, is a contractor that provides a crane service. The crane truck, which was being driven by an employee of Midwest Crane & Rigging LLC, was stopped by Kansas Highway Patrol Master Trooper Christopher Beas after he noticed that the truck did not have a license plate. 

This led to him giving two citations; failure to display a license plate and failure to pay a UCR fee. Since the vehicle is classified as a self-propelled crane, making it exempt from registration requirements, the license plate violation was dismissed. 

However, the UCR violation remained, resulting in Midwest Crane & Rigging being fined $300 by the Kansas Corporation Commission for failure to register and pay the fee required.

In a hearing requested by Midwest Crane & Rigging, the Kansas Corporation Commission upheld the UCR fee. Its decision came because it treated the term “cargo” and “property” as synonymous. This allowed it to conclude that the vehicle was a “commercial motor vehicle.” After the commission denied a request for reconsideration by the commission, Midwest petitioned for judicial review.

In Midwest’s appeal to the Court of Appeals, the majority of a panel agreed with the decision of the commission. The majority of the panel also ruled that "cargo" and "property" are not wholly synonymous, interpreting "cargo" to be "goods, i.e., tangible or moveable personal property, other than money, transported or conveyed by a self-propelled vehicle for commercial purposes," the ruling states. 

The majority held that "in this commercial enterprise, Midwest's crane, spreader beam, and tools were separate, moveable items of personal property or goods which, transported together to the worksite, were all necessary to enable Midwest Crane to hoist an air conditioner onto the roof of the building."

Questioning whether the crane and associated tools were considered cargo, the court took facts regarding the truck into consideration. The truck to which the crane is bolted was driven to a job site. The crane, along with the associated tools lifts a heavy object, then the truck leaves the site. The crane does not come off of the truck, nor does the truck leave anything else behind at the site. The crane is not designed to be "shipped" from job site to job site, neither is it designed to be loaded or unloaded.

The opinion of the Kansas Supreme Court was that the crane and tools of the truck did not qualify as cargo, meaning that it was not a commercial motor vehicle and that the commission, district judge, and Court of Appeals majority erroneously affirmed the fine. 

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Kansas Supreme Court