Agency Deference May Snag 9th Circ. Meal, Rest Break Row

Law 360
Thursday, February 14, 2019

California may face an uphill battle in its Ninth Circuit bid to invalidate the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recent determination that the Golden State’s meal and rest break rules are preempted by federal law and cannot be enforced against interstate trucking companies, experts say.
The DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration invoked its authority as the federal safety regulator for the commercial motor vehicle industry to determine in December that California’s meal and rest break rules conflicted with federal rules governing truckers’ hours.

Peeved by what it considered the federal agency’s bid to overstep and undermine California’s worker protections, the state attorney general's office, representing the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, petitioned the Ninth Circuit on Feb. 6 to invalidate the FMCSA determination. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a separate petition that same day also asking the Ninth Circuit to step in.…
Dozens of groups including consumer safety advocates, labor unions, employee rights and trial lawyers' groups weighed in in opposition of a preemption finding after the FMCSA began accepting public comments on the ATA’s petition last October. They argued that for years, the trucking industry has been trying to weaken or eliminate safety laws that are designed to make sure truck drivers get enough rest. Ultimately, states’ worker protection regulations shouldn’t be so easily dismissed, they said.

The American Association for Justice, which advocates for trials by jury, has said the FMCSA crafted bad public policy with a decision that’s a “giveaway to the trucking industry at the expense of driver safety.”

“The trucking industry has failed in numerous legislative attempts to fix the law, and the Supreme Court has declined [the] industry’s requests to review California’s law,” American Association for Justice CEO Linda Lipsen said in a statement. “Industry has now asked FMCSA to fix the law of one state. FMCSA’s misguided approach of preempting the law of one state at the behest of industry is not justified, and leaves the agencyopen to legal challenges. And of course, there is no evidence that California’s meal and rest break rules negatively impact safety.”

The Center for Justice & Democracy and more than 35 other groups said in their comments to the FMCSA that providing safe working conditions for commercial drivers and remedies in the event of an accident, injury or fatality are among the most basic and traditional of state functions.

“States must have leeway to determine what safety rules make sense for their own commercial drivers, in addition to meeting minimum federal requirements,” the groups said. “Indeed, 20 states have meal and rest break provisions similar to California’s. This petition ask[ed] the FMCSA to prevent one state from having authority in this area. It is an egregious attack on the laws of one particular state and on states’ rights generally.”

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