by Michelle R. Ferber and Julie Ann Giammona

On December 21, 2018, in a victory for the American Trucking Association (ATA), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an Agency regulated by the Department of Transportation, granted the ATA petition to exempt commercial motor vehicle drivers covered by the FMCSA’s hours of service regulations from California meal period and rest break rules (MRB Rules). The FMCSA concluded that California’s MRB Rules are preempted by the Federal Authorization Administration Act because the MRB Rules interfere with the federal hours of service regulations.  Specifically, the FMCSA determined that the MRB Rules: 1) have no safety benefit beyond those already provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations; 2) are inconsistent with federal regulations in that the MRB Rules are more stringent than the federal regulations; and 3) cause an undue burden to interstate commerce.

In reaching its conclusion, the FMCSA overturned its prior 2008 ruling which had determined that the MRB Rules were not regulations “on commercial motor vehicle safety” because such Rules were “one part of California’s comprehensive regulations governing wages, hours and working conditions,” and applied to employers in many different industries, not just the trucking industry. To justify its 360-degree change in course, the Agency simply stated: “[T]he Agency’s position need not forever remain static. It is well settled that an initial Agency interpretation is not instantly carved in stone; on the contrary, an Agency must consider varying interpretations and the wisdom of its policy on a continuing basis.”

Just short of two weeks after the FMCSA ruling, the Teamsters Union has already filed a petition in the Ninth Circuit requesting an immediate review. The petition asserts that prior precedent, specifically, Dilts v. Penske Logistics, a 2014 Ninth Circuit case, requires that the Agency ruling be overturned. The FMCSA distinguished its decision from Dilts by arguing that Dilts analyzed preemption in the context of effect on “prices, routes, or service,” not in the context of regulations effecting “commercial motor vehicle safety.” We will keep you apprised of the outcome of the Teamsters Union petition.

It is important to note that the FMCSA ruling only applies to employers engaged in interstate commerce, not employers engaged in intrastate transportation. This means that California meal period and rest break rules, as well as overtime requirements, still apply to all trucking companies not engaged in interstate commerce. Also, due to the uncertainty of the finality of the FMCSA decision, we do not believe the ruling should be read as a “green light” to stop complying with meal period and rest break requirements. Instead, at least until the Ninth Circuit issues its decision on the Teamsters Union petition, the safest and best course of action is to continue to provide meal period and rest breaks to all of your truckers, even those engaged in interstate commerce. We at Ferber Law welcome your questions. Please call us so that we may provide personal, expert guidance on this developing area of the law.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.