In Mason and Dixon Lines Incorporated v. E.L. Hollingsworth & Co., Case No. 11-1183/1186, the State of Michigan and the Detroit International Bridge Company contracted to construct new and improved approaches to the Bridge from interstate roads in Michigan. The Bridge Company and the State of Michigan each had separate construction jobs for the Project. The suit arose from a state court action in which the State obtained a judicial order finding that the Bridge Company was in breach of the construction contract. As part of the action, the state court also found that the contract did not require the State to immediately open the freeway ramps leading up to the bridge. Plaintiffs, who share common ownership with the Bridge Company, then filed suit in federal court seeking an injunction requiring the State to open the freeway ramps, and claimed that the its refusal to open the ramps violated the dormant Commerce Clause and several federal statutes.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court dismissal of the claims. It first rejected plaintiffs argument that the State’s refusal to open the freeway ramps prior to the completion of the project violates the dormant Commerce Clause because the State was acting as a market participant. Instead of protecting local commerce it was ensuring completion of a contract that would actually encourage the flow of commerce across state and international lines.(Emphasis in original). Similarly, the Court held that the State had not violated the Motor Carriers Statute, 49 U.S.C. 14501(c), or the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, 49 U.S.C. 31114(a)(2), because the State’s conduct was protected by the market participation doctrine. The State’s refusal to open the ramps, therefore, is not the reflection of some law or regulatory impulse but of the State’s proprietary interest in ensuring the performance of a contract.