California A.G. asks court to dismiss challenge to Dynamex decision

February 13, 2019

Mark Schremmer

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The California attorney general filed a motion in federal court to dismiss a trucking association’s claims that a previous California Supreme Court decision is pre-empted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act and violates the Commerce Clause.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra made the request on Feb. 7 to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in response to the California Trucking Association’s lawsuit that attempts to invalidate the California Supreme Court’s decision in Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Court.

The Dynamex decision created a new test for determining whether workers are employees or independent contractors. The California Trucking Association argues that the test doesn’t apply to truck drivers because of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act – dubbed the FAAAA or F4A – and the Commerce Clause.

Using the ABC test, the Dynamex decision determined that a worker is only an independent contractor if the individual is free from control and direction of the hiring company, the work performed is outside the usual course of the hiring company’s business, and that the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade or occupation.

Becerra said that the California Trucking Association’s complaint fails to state an actionable claim.

“It alleges that Dynamex ‘effectively prohibits’ motor carriers from hiring independent truckers to carry out their transportation services, thus impacting their routes, services, and prices,” Becerra wrote in the motion to dismiss. “However, plaintiffs do not allege that Dynamex has been enforced against them or that enforcement has been threatened.”

The FAAAA prohibits states from enacting a law or regulation related to a price, route, or service of any carrier.

Becerra told the court the FAAAA shouldn’t pre-empt the Dynamex decision because there is no private right under the FAAAA and because the claim “fails on its merits.”

“This statutory language should not be read ‘with an uncritical literalism,’” Becerra wrote. “Thus, the Supreme Court has held that it doesn’t pre-empt state laws affecting carrier prices, routes and services ‘in only a tenuous, remote or peripheral … manner.’”

The attorney general also argued that the decision did not violate the Commerce Clause.

“Plaintiffs do not contend that the challenged state laws discriminate against interstate commerce, nor could they,” Beccerra wrote. “Dynamex (does) not facially discriminate against interstate commerce, but instead set out generally applicable requirements that apply equally to in-state, multistate, and out-of-state employers.”

The Western States Trucking Association also has filed a lawsuit aimed at overturning the Dynamex decision. A ruling is expected soon.

Becerra has been active in trucking-related cases as of late. Last week, he took part in a petition aimed at reversing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s decision to pre-empt California’s meal and rest break laws.

“It is well within a state’s rights to establish standards for the welfare of our workers,” Becerra said in a news release. “Truck drivers, like every other person protected under California’s labor laws across hundreds of different industries, deserve adequate meal and rest breaks.”

Lucas Oil

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.