Court ruling was not on the merits of the lawsuit, but on the basis of whether the court had jurisdiction.  
 -  Photo: FMCSA

Court ruling was not on the merits of the lawsuit, but on the basis of whether the court had jurisdiction. 

Photo: FMCSA

A federal district court in California has determined that it lacks jurisdiction to rule on a class-action suit brought against U.S. Xpress that alleges the motor carrier violated State of California rules governing meal and rest breaks for commercial vehicle drivers.

Since FMCSA declared on December 21, 2018, that federal law pertaining to interstate commerce preempts state regulations, such as California’s distinct meal and rest break rules, the court determined it did not have the authority to rule on the plaintiffs’ claims.

The U.S. Central District of California (9th Cir.) on May 3 entered an order dismissing the meal and rest break claims of the plaintiff and absent class, presented in Ayala v. U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Inc. et al., based on the decision late last year by the Federal Motor Carrier Administration to preempt the state’s meal and rest break rules as they apply to drivers operating in interstate commerce, according to the defendant’s law firm, Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, PC.

FMCSA's preemption action, approved by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, came “in response to widespread concern from drivers, concerned citizens, and industry stakeholders. In 1996, the agency noted, Congress preempted states from enacting or enforcing policies “related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier.” 

At the time, the Department of Transportation stated that it had determined that California’s law is “incompatible with federal regulations and causes a disruption in interstate commerce. In addition, the confusing and conflicting requirements are overly burdensome for drivers and reduce productivity, increasing costs for consumers. Additionally, safety issues have likely resulted from the lack of adequate parking solutions for trucks in the state.”

“There have been four different appeals filed with the 9th Circuit challenging the FMCSA’s decision [on preemption,” the law firm noted in a news release. “The district court explicitly conditioned the dismissal on the plaintiff’s right to seek reconsideration should the 9th Circuit reverse or possibly stay the FMCSA’s decision on the appeal.”

“Despite the plaintiff’s challenges to the FMCSA’s decision, the district court reasoned that it lacked authority to make any determination regarding the merits of the FMCSA’s decision,” Scopelitis stated. “It could only enforce it.”  

The law firm contended that this is “an important precedent for transportation companies facing meal and rest break claims in California. It provides a means to stop the litigation, including discovery on those claims, while the appeal is pending.

“It is important, however, to maintain California-compliant meal and rest break policies and practices for drivers working in California until the appeal is concluded,” Scopelitis cautioned.

Related: DOT Preempts California Meal and Rest Break Rules, Citing Impact on Interstate Commerce

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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