California Meal and Rest Break Suit Dismissed on Basis of FMCSA Preemption Stance.

by gspencermynko

On Friday, May 3, 2019, the Central District of California dismissed the meal and rest break claims in a class action based on the December 28, 2018 decision from the FMCSA preempting the California meal and rest break rules as they apply to interstate drivers.

See Ayala v. U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Inc. et al., Case No. EDCV 16-137-GW(KKx). A federal court dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of drivers against U.S. Xpress concerning the state’s meal and rest break laws, signaling a potential tide change in the lingering legal issue in the state. The court determined that it lacks jurisdiction to rule on a class-action suit brought against U.S. Xpress that alleges the motor carrier violated State of California rules governing meal and rest breaks for commercial vehicle drivers. The court also stated it was required to follow and enforce the FMCSA decision: specifically, California meal and rest break rules cannot be enforced against motor carriers and their drivers who are operating in the state. This decision because it reflects how the courts are respecting the FMCSA’s position and following its declaration that motor carriers subject to USDOT rules do not have to follow California Meal and Rest Break rules.

A quick refresher on the Law:

California requires an employer to provide employees who works more than five hours with a 30-minute uninterrupted, off-duty meal break (and another meal break if they work more than 10 hours). State law also requires an employer to provide employees with a 10-minute uninterrupted, off-duty break every four hours.Cal. Lab. Code §§ 226.7, 512. Regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), on the other hand, require only that a commercial driver not drive more than eight hours without first taking a 30-minute, off-duty meal break. See 49 C.F.R. § 395.3(a)(3).

California’s labor code provides for a 30-minute meal break for shifts of five hours or more for all workers in the state. California laws also establish a right for workers in the transportation industry to a 10-minute break for every four working hours. In contrast, Federal hours-of-service rules impose daily limits on driving time, and require long-haul truck drivers to take at least 30 minutes off no less than eight hours after starting a shift if they plan to drive for more than eight hours in a day.

On December 21, 2018 The FMCSA ruled that All Truck Drivers Subject to USDOT Rules Do Not Have To Follow California Law Regarding MRB.

The U.S. Transportation Department ruled last December that California laws requiring truck drivers be allowed certain break periods can be pre-empted by federal laws, which provide for less downtime. The ruling comes in response to a September petition of the DOT by the American Trucking Association (ATA), which claimed that a when rules vary from state to state, it can cause confusion for drivers and challenges for business across the supply chain.

The DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wrote California’s meal-and-rest break laws, “are more stringent than the agency’s hours of service regulations, that they have no safety benefits that extend beyond those already provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, that they are incompatible with the Federal hours of service regulations, and that they cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.” The FMCSA has determined that the MRB Rules are laws on CMV safety, that they are more stringent than the Agency’s hours of service regulations, that they have no safety benefits that extend beyond those already provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, that they are incompatible with the Federal hours of service regulations, and that they cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce. The California MRB Rules, therefore, are preempted under 49 U.S.C. 31141(c).

The FMCSA Opinion has now been tested in the courts, and the Trucking Companies are the victors.

The U.S. Central District of California (9th Cir.) entered an order dismissing the meal and rest break claims of the plaintiff and absent class in Ayala v. U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Inc. et al., based on the decision by the FMCSA to preempt the state’s meal and rest break rules as they apply to drivers operating in interstate commerce. The case is the first since the FMCSA decision to test the new legal environment surrounding California’s meal and rest breaks as they pertain to trucking.There have been four different appeals filed with the 9th Circuit challenging the FMCSA’s decision. The district court explicitly conditioned the dismissal on the plaintiff’s right to seek reconsideration should the 9th Circuit reverse or possible stay the FMCSA’s decision on the appeal. The lawyers representing US Xpress stated “This is an important precedent for transportation companies facing meal and rest break claims in California. It provides a means to stop the litigation, including discovery on those claims, while the appeal is pending.

However, take heart that the court’s reasoning is on solid ground.
The Ayala court acknowledged the authority of the Secretary of Transportation to make a determination that state laws meeting certain criteria are preempted and, unless the Ninth Circuit rules otherwise, California may not enforce its meal and rest period rules with respect to drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles subject to FMCSA’s hours of service rules.

Take this good news with caution.

Based on the appeals to the decision in Ayala v. U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Inc. The Ninth Circuit (or U.S. Supreme Court) will have to decide whether the FMCSA’s preemption Order stands. Until the Ninth Circuit rules, motor carriers operating in California have to choose between compliance with California’s meal and rest break rules or hope the Ninth Circuit upholds the FMCSA’s decision. If a carrier changes its policies and practices in reliance on the FMCSA decision, but the Ninth Circuit later overturns the FMCSA decision, the carrier could be liable for violating California meal and rest break law. Trucking companies may want to wait for the Ninth Circuit’s decision before disposing of their California-compliant meal and rest break policies and practices for drivers working in California.

Now we need to convince the FMCSA that the Dynamex “ABC Test” is preempted by Federal Law. Let’s hope that is a future article.