State v. Yorkey

Annotate this Case
STATE_V_YORKEY.93-537; 163 Vt 355; 657 A.2d 1079

[Filed 24-Feb-1995]

NOTICE:  This opinion is subject to motions for reargument under V.R.A.P. 40
as well as formal revision before publication in the Vermont Reports. 
Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Vermont Supreme
Court, 109 State Street, Montpelier, Vermont 05609-0801 of any errors in
order that corrections may be made before this opinion goes to press. 


                                 No. 93-537


State of Vermont                                  Supreme Court

                                                  On Appeal from
    v.                                            District Court of Vermont,
                                                  Unit No. 3, Caledonia Circuit

John Yorkey, Douglas Willey                       November Term, 1994
and David Murray; Town of
Danville, Intervenor


David T. Suntag, J.

Jeffrey L. Amestoy, Attorney General, and Robert W. Gagnon, Senior Assistant
Attorney General, Montpelier, for plaintiff-appellee 

Jane Rickless Paul of Paul and Paul, St. Johnsbury, for intervenor-appellant

Deborah L. Markowitz, Montpelier, for amicus curiae Vermont League of Cities
and Towns 



PRESENT:  Allen, C.J., Gibson, Dooley, Morse and Johnson, JJ.



     GIBSON, J.   The Town of Danville appeals from a district court decision
that the Town lacked authority to adopt an ordinance regulating speeds on
U.S. Route 2, a state highway located within its borders.  We affirm. 

     Defendants were given tickets by a deputy sheriff for speeding on U.S.
Route 2 in Danville, pursuant to a local ordinance setting the town speed
limit equal to the preexisting state speed limit.  After the traffic bureau
ruled that 23 V.S.A.  1007(a) did not permit the Town to enact the
ordinance, it amended the citations to reflect violations of the state speed
limit under 23 V.S.A.  1003.  The Town appealed to the district court,
which affirmed the bureau's decision, concluding that Danville lacked
statutory authority to enact any ordinance governing speed on state highways.
 The present appeal followed. 

 

     The Danville ordinance was adopted in 1990, claiming authority under 23
V.S.A.  1007 and 1008, 24 V.S.A.  1971 and 2291(1), (4) and (5).  At
issue on appeal are 23 V.S.A.  1007, which provides for increases and
decreases in speed limits by municipalities under certain conditions, and 24
V.S.A.  2291(4), a general grant of authority to municipalities which
provides that "[f]or the purpose of promoting the public health, safety,
welfare and convenience," a town or city shall have the power to regulate the
speed of vehicles subject to what is now 23 V.S.A.  1081. 

     23 V.S.A.  1081(b) establishes a maximum speed limit on all highways
of fifty miles per hour.  Section 1081(c) provides that "[t]he maximum speed
limits set forth in this section may be altered in accordance with sections
1003, 1004, 1007 and 1010 of this title." 

     When Danville's ordinance was adopted in 1990, 23 V.S.A.  1007
provided, in pertinent part, as follows: 

       (a) Whenever the legislative body of a municipality determines,
     on the basis of an engineering and traffic investigation, that a
     maximum speed permitted under this chapter is greater or less than
     is reasonable and safe under conditions found to exist upon all or
     a part of any city, town or village street or highway within its
     jurisdiction, it may determine and declare a reasonable and safe
     maximum limit any provision of any municipal charter or
     ordinance to the contrary notwithstanding which
       (1) increases the limit, but not to more than fifty miles per hour;
     or
       (2) decreases the limit, but not to less than twenty-five miles per
     hour.
       (b) Whenever the legislative body of a city determines, on the
     basis of an engineering and traffic investigation, that a maximum
     speed permitted under this chapter is greater or less than is
     reasonable and safe under conditions found to exist upon all or a
     part of any state highway, other than a limited access highway,
     within its jurisdiction, it may determine and declare a reasonable
     and safe maximum limit any provision of any municipal charter or
     ordinance to the contrary notwithstanding which:
       (1) increases the limit, but not to more than fifty miles per hour;
     or
       (2) decreases the limit, but not to less than twenty-five miles per
     hour.

(Emphasis added.)

 

     As we have often pointed out, a municipality has only those powers and
functions that are specifically authorized by the Legislature, and such
additional functions as may be incident, subordinate or necessary to the
exercise thereof.  Handy v. City of Rutland, 156 Vt. 397, 400, 598 A.2d 114,
116 (1990); Hinesburg Sand & Gravel Co. v. Town of Hinesburg, 135 Vt. 484,
485-86, 380 A.2d 64, 66 (1977).  Further, there is a presumption that the
Legislature does not intend to enact meaningless legislation, State v.
Baldwin, 140 Vt. 501, 511, 438 A.2d 1135, 1140 (1981); thus, when we construe
a statute, we must do so in a manner that will not render it ineffective or
meaningless.  Id. 

     Section 1007 clearly and unambiguously precludes enforcement of the
ordinance before us.  Section 1007(a), which took effect in 1973, grants
authority to the "legislative body of a municipality" to set the speed limit
on a "town . . . street or highway."  Section 1007(b), which was adopted the
following year, applies solely to the "legislative body of a city" and grants
to cities, only, the authority to set speed limits on "any state highway,
other than a limited access highway."(FN1)  If the Legislature had intended
that a town set speed limits on state highways within its borders under
1007(a), then  1007(b) would have been unnecessary.  U.S. Route 2 is a
state highway, not a "town . . . street or highway."  There is no question
but that  1007 does not permit the Town of Danville to regulate the speed
limit on Route 2.  Cf. State v. Blaine, 133 Vt. 345, 353, 341 A.2d 16, 21
(1975) (construing 23 V.S.A.  1007 prior to enactment of subsection (b),
Court held that purported existence of local speeding ordinance was negated
by  1007, under which local legislative bodies were not empowered to set
speed limits on state highways). 

     Nevertheless, the Town argues that distinguishing between town and city
within  1007 is not based on any relevant difference and that the
Legislature could have had no rational reason 

 

for granting cities the power to establish speed limits on state highways
while denying that power to towns.  If the Town means to imply that the
Legislature intended no distinction at all between towns and cities, the
argument fails the plain meaning test.  Not to distinguish between a town and
a city would run contrary to this Court's instruction that every part of a
statute must be considered and, if possible, effect given to every word,
clause and sentence.  Trapeni v. Department of Employment Sec., 142 Vt. 317,
323, 455 A.2d 329, 332 (1982). 

     Whether the distinction between town and city makes sense is not the
concern of the courts, so long as the statute has a rational relation to its
purpose.  Cf. Sienkiewycz v. Dressell, 151 Vt. 421, 424, 561 A.2d 415, 417
(1989) (distinction between corporate and noncorporate employees within
workers' compensation law is valid classification for equal protection
purposes).  A city is a municipal corporation that, in most instances, is of
the largest and highest class.  Black's Law Dictionary 222 (5th ed. 1979). 
The Legislature is free to distinguish between towns and cities in  1007,
and we will construe the provision to reflect that distinction. 

     Further, because the Town of Danville is not a city, see 24 V.S.A.  4
(identifying Danville as a town in Caledonia County), any analysis of 
1007(b) seems at first blush entirely academic.  The Town contends, however,
that it should be deemed a city for purposes of  1007 because the Vermont
statutes do not define "city," rendering the word ambiguous.  The Town adds
that by giving the word "town" its plain, ordinary meaning, Danville becomes
a "city" within the meaning of the statute.  The argument is unconvincing. 
The plain, ordinary meaning of "town" is that it is an entity that was
legislatively created as a town.  The distinction between a town and a city
is reasonably clear, both historically and legally.  Even if there are
contexts in which the distinction is not relevant or important -- as where
all municipalities are treated together -- here, the Legislature has adopted
a statute in which the distinction is clearly expressed.  The Town of
Danville is not a city, either for purposes of  1007 or for any other
purpose that the Court can discern. 

     The Town next contends that it has independent authority to enact the
ordinance under 24 V.S.A.  2291(4).  Its theory is that  2291(4)
authorizes it "to regulate the speed of 

 

vehicles," subject only to the constraints of  1007, and because  1007
deals only with increases or decreases in speed limits, it does not bar an
ordinance that leaves the state- prescribed limit in place. 

     The clear answer is that the Danville ordinance does not "regulate the
speed of vehicles" in any meaningful sense.  It is at most a post hoc
adoption of the existing speed limit under state law, which the ordinance
does not, and cannot, vary.  It is the State that has set the speed for Route
2 in the Town, and the sole effect of the ordinance is to divert to the Town
fines that would otherwise flow to the State -- in short, it is a
revenue-raising measure.  As a revenue- raising measure, the ordinance is
neither expressly nor impliedly authorized by the Legislature. See Handy v.
City of Rutland, 156 Vt. at 400, 598 A.2d  at 116 (municipality has only those
powers specifically authorized by Legislature). 

     In its amicus brief in support of the Town's position, the Vermont
League of Cities and Towns points to the financial burden incurred by
municipalities in enforcing speed limits on state highways within their
borders, and argues that municipal authority to enact concurrent speed limits
on state highways "makes sense."  But if Danville may collect such revenues,
any town having a state highway within its boundaries may do likewise.  Who
receives the proceeds from the enforcement of speeding limits on state
highways is an important issue within the overall state revenue-raising
scheme -- a quintessentially legislative concern.  If the Town wishes to
obtain such funds, it should petition for appropriate legislation. 

     Affirmed.
                                             FOR THE COURT:


                                             _________________________
                                             Associate Justice

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                               Footnotes

FN1.    "`State highways' are those highways maintained exclusively by the
 agency of transportation."  19 V.S.A.  1(18).  "`Town highways' are those
 highways exclusively maintained by the towns and those highways maintained by
 the towns except for scheduled surface maintenance performed by the agency. .
 . ."  Id.  1(21).