May 15, 2015 Practice Points

SCOTUS Lets Stand Decision in Favor of CA Truck Drivers

The Court refused to consider whether preemption applies to California worker-protection laws.

By Robin E. Perkins

On May 4, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a Ninth Circuit decision that California’s state law prescribing meal and rest breaks for truckers is not “related to” transportation prices, routes, or services, and thus is not preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAA).

This action originated as a class-action lawsuit filed by truck drivers for Penske Logistics, LLC (Penske), who alleged that Penske underpaid for required meal and rest breaks, failed to ensure that the breaks were actually taken, and created an environment that discouraged drivers from taking the mandatory breaks.

The lower court ruled that the FAAA preempted California’s state law governing meal and rest breaks, because the state law imposed rigid timing requirements for when and how long breaks must be taken. Accordingly, the lower court held that the state law impermissibly restricted the routes Penske could select, which was within the purview of the FAAA because it related to transportation prices, routes, or services.

In July 2014, the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling and held that the FAAA did not preempt state law, and recently on May 4, 2015, the Supreme Court declined to review Penske’s writ of certiorari.

According to the Penske drivers, the Supreme Court’s refusal to review the Ninth Circuit decision protects and affirms worker-protection laws in place for over a century in California. Penske, however, argues that the Ninth Circuit’s decision is an outlier, out of sync with other federal circuits. Penske contends that the Supreme Court’s denial of federal preemption here will have substantive ramifications and subjects transportation carriers to risk and exposure in their California operations. Specifically, Penske stated that the decision “effectively insulates laws of general applicability from the preemptive reach of the [FAAA Act], directly contrary to Congress’s intent and [the Supreme Court’s] precedent.”

Robin E. Perkins, Snell & Wilmer, LLP, Las Vegas, NV

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