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OOIDA permitted to intervene in renewed AB5 legal battle in California

Judge says group’s filing in 2021 was ‘timely,’ and it is needed as a representative of independent truckers

Photo: Shutterstock

Just a few days after the state of California asked a court to keep OOIDA out of the next step in the lawsuit over the AB5 independent contractor law, a federal district court judge has let the association in.

Judge Roger Benitez of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, in a decision filed Thursday, ruled that the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association can be allowed as an intervenor in the case originally brought by the California Trucking Association.

Benitez is the same judge who handed down the preliminary injunction in early 2020 that blocked AB5, California’s restrictive independent contractor law that went into effect statewide at the start of 2020, from being implemented in the trucking sector. Benitez agreed with the CTA’s argument that for trucking, AB5 was in conflict with a federal law, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, known as F4A.

Benitez noted in his ruling that OOIDA is not the first intervenor allowed in the case. The Teamsters union was permitted to be an intervenor alongside the original defendant, the state attorney general’s office.

“There is no party to the current litigation that primarily represents interstate truck owner-operator independent contractors who want to continue to do business in California,” Benitez wrote.

As OOIDA said in its initial request to be allowed as an intervenor in April 2021, the CTA had made two core arguments in its legal battle against AB5. The first was the potential conflict with F4A. The second was the Commerce Clause, which regulates and limits a state’s ability to interfere with interstate commerce. Benitez said the two arguments were “mutually exclusive.”

“OOIDA moved to intervene to press the Commerce Clause theory from its unique standpoint as truck owner-operators based outside of California,” Benitez said.

He rejected the state’s argument that OOIDA should be kept out because it was late to the party even back in 2021. Benitez argued that OOIDA’s request then was “not only timely, but prescient.” Its request to intervene came just before an appeals court overturned Benitez’s injunction but did based so on its interpretation of F4A, not on the Commerce Clause question.

“Because the Commerce Clause question has yet to be fleshed out and because OOIDA members would be the individuals most impacted by enforcement of AB5 among people seeking a livelihood driving their trucks into and out of California, OOIDA is better-suited to prosecute its claim for relief,” Benitez wrote. He cited four legal precedents for allowing intervention, and said OOIDA met all four.

The judge also noted that the passage of AB2257 — which expanded the list of professions exempt from AB5 and was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September 2020 — has changed the landscape.

“Applying the correct rule to the facts here makes clear that OOIDA’s motion is timely,” Benitez wrote.

OOIDA President Todd Spencer issued a statement that said, “[O]ur members’ livelihoods are at risk under AB5, and by joining this case, we will ensure that their voices are heard.”

A joint statement issued by OOIDA and CTA Wednesday made clear the two organizations were allied on the question of OOIDA being permitted as an intervenor.

The original Benitez injunction was overturned by an appellate court in April 2021, and the U.S. Supreme Court in June declined to hear an appeal of that decision, which resulted in the injunction being lifted. But the arguments in the original CTA lawsuit have not been fully heard before a court. The CTA has chosen to continue its fight, and Benitez’s courtroom continues to be the battleground.

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.