Court sides with U.S. Xpress on California meal, rest break laws

May 7, 2019

Mark Schremmer


A California federal court dismissed part of a class action lawsuit against U.S. Xpress, saying that it lacked the authority to review the merits of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s decision to pre-empt California’s meal and rest break laws.

On May 2, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted partial summary judgment to the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based trucking company’s motion regarding California’s meal and rest break rules. A class of truck drivers filed suit against U.S. Xpress in 2016, claiming wage and meal and rest break violations.

U.S. Xpress contended that FMCSA’s announcement in December “made a binding determination that California’s meal and rest break rules, as applied to property-carrying commercial vehicle drivers, are pre-empted by FMCSA hours-of-service regulations.”

Doing so, FMCSA granted petitions from the American Trucking Associations and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association, saying that the California law is “incompatible” with federal regulations.

California’s meal and rest break laws generally require employers to provide employees with an off-duty 30-minute break for every five hours worked and a 10-minute off-duty break for every four-hour period. The law has led to numerous class action lawsuits against trucking companies.

The decision by the court points to a potential shift in favor of the trucking companies in these cases.

“The FMCSA has promulgated an order which specifically bars enforcement of the relevant provisions of the California Labor Code as applied to property-carrying commercial vehicle drivers,” the court wrote. “This court does not have the authority to review the merits of the order.”

Attorneys for the truck drivers argued that U.S. Xpress’ motion should be denied pending the results of challenges to FMCSA’s decision in the Ninth Circuit.

However, the court decided that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling was too far off.

“There is no indication than an opinion from the Ninth Circuit is imminent,” the court wrote. “In fact, the Ninth Circuit is yet to even hear oral argument on the subject. This court is bound by the FMCSA order and will apply the order unless and until it is invalidated by the Ninth Circuit.”