Transportation Executive Summary: FMCSA Preemption Order Stops Plaintiffs' Case


Ayala v. U.S Xpress Enterprises, Inc., 2019 WL 1986760 (C.D. Cal. May 2, 2019)

On May 2, 2019, the United States District Court of the Central District of California ruled on a supplemental motion for partial summary judgment involving U.S. Xpress, Inc.  (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiffs asserted Defendants “wrongly failed to pay wages for all compensable work time, failed to provide duty free meal and rest periods or to pay added wages in the absence of such break periods, failed to maintain proper time and pay records, and failed to pay all accrued wages upon termination of its truck drivers, in violation of California law.” The Defendants argued that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) “has made a binding determination that California’s meal and rest break rules, as applied to property-carrying commercial vehicle drives, are preempted by FMCSA hours and service regulations.” Accordingly, Defendants maintain they were entitled to partial summary judgment. The Court agreed with this assessment and ruled in favor of the Defendants. 

On December 28, 2018, the FMCSA published an Order which concluded that the California meal and rest break rules, as applied to property-carrying commercial vehicle drivers, were preempted by the FMCSA’s hours of service regulations.  See 83 Fed. Reg. 67470-01 (Dec. 28, 2018).  (The Order is linked at the bottom of the page.)   The Administrator of the FMCSA made the determination that the California meal and rest break rules met certain criteria which resulted in their preemption by the federal regulations.  Thus, the California rules could not be enforced.

However, in the federal system, judicial review of an agency determination can only be heard by a federal circuit court.  Thus, “this Court does not have the authority to review the merits of the Order.”

The case does not reflect what challenges to the Order are pending in the Ninth Circuit (or elsewhere for that matter). Consequently, the District Court is bound by the Order. In a footnote, the District Court stated “[w]hen and if the Ninth Circuit issues an opinion as to the validity of the Order, Plaintiff is welcome to file a motion for reconsideration.” Until the Ninth Circuit decides to address the validity of the Order, the meal and rest break rules cannot be enforced.  In short, you will want to continue to monitor this website for further developments.

Contact John F. Fatino for more information about trucking and transportation matters at (515) 288-6041. Nicholas R. Benson, J.D. candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, assisted in preparation of this article.

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