Transportation Law Update: FMCSA Prevails on Challenge to California's Meal and Rest Break Rules

06.08.2021

Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, Local 2785 v. Fed. Motor Carrier Safety Admin., 986 F.3d 841 (9th Cir. 2021)

Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld FMCSA’s order regarding California’s Meal and Rest Break Rules (MRB) and FMCSA’s Hours of Service Rules (HOS). The FMCSA order had determined that the HOS preempted California’s MRB for commercial motor vehicles carrying property. The reaction of the courts to California’s new rules is being closely monitored by the transportation industry.

In the previous FMCSA ruling, the FMCSA found that the MRB and HOS rules virtually covered the same aspects of safety and there was no added benefit for the MRB rules. As the MRB rules were incompatible with the HOS rules, the enforcement of MRB rules would put an unneeded burden upon interstate commerce. The Ninth Circuit affirmed this view by stating that this interpretation was not arbitrary or capricious. Additionally, the Ninth Circuit noted that the FMCSA has authority, provided by statute, to preempt state rules which address safety for commercial motor vehicles. According to precedent and the Supreme Court of the United States case of Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, the Ninth Circuit acknowledged that the FMCSA’s ruling should receive deference in regard to safety for commercial motor vehicles.

The HOS rules, as revised in 2011, require certain limits on driving commercial motor vehicles. Drivers who are working over eight hours are required to take at least one 30-minute break within the first eight hours of working. California’s MRB rules have a stricter requirement, mandating a 30-minute break for a meal during a work day over five hours, and if the driver is working over ten hours, the driver can have another 30-minute break for a meal. These rules have more guidance on when these breaks must be taken, unlike the HOS rules, which allow more flexibility.

A key takeaway from this case for employers is the significance of the FMCSA’s HOS rules without the need to comply with California’s equivalent rules. Check our website for potential updates on appeals and future rulings on this case. A petition for writ of certiorari is pending before the United States Supreme Court.

Contact John F. Fatino for more information on transportation law at 515-288-6041 or fatino@whitfieldlaw.com. Elaina J. Steenson, J.D. Candidate, Drake University, assisted in the preparation of these materials.

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