Ninth Circuit sides with FMCSA on California break rules preemption

January 15, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has upheld the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s determination to preempt California’s meal and rest break rules.

The Ninth Circuit issued the opinion on Friday, Jan. 15, saying that FMCSA “reasonably determined that a state law on commercial motor vehicle safety was one that imposes requirements in an area of regulations that is already addressed.”

In December 2018, FMCSA announced its decision to grant the petitions from the American Trucking Associations and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association to preempt California’s rules. At the time, then FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said that having “uniform rules” is a key component to increasing highway safety.

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.

In February 2019, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters petitioned the Ninth Circuit. Both lawsuits argued that FMCSA didn’t have the authority to preempt the lawsuit.

Ninth Circuit opinion

As part of its opinion, the court referenced the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984, which says a state may not enforce a law or regulation on commercial motor vehicle safety that the Secretary of Transportation decides may not be enforced.

“We appreciate petitioners’ arguments in favor of their preferred approach to governance in the area of commercial motor vehicle safety,” the three-judge panel wrote. “But in this case, petitioners’ objections are ultimately as much to the statute Congress drafted as they are to the FMCSA’s preemption determination. Under the principles that govern our evaluation of the agency’s decision, the petitions for review must be denied.”

Since FMCSA’s original preemption decision in 2018, the agency made the same determination in regards to California bus drivers in January 2020, and determined this past November that Washington’s meal and rest break rules also were preempted. LL

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.