A California federal court dismissed part of a class-action lawsuit against U.S. Xpress (NYSE: USX) that claimed the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based truckload carrier violated the state’s meal and rest break laws.
The May 3 order by the Central District Court of California dismissed claims by plaintiff Anthony Ayala and approximately 1,000 California truck drivers in a lawsuit filed in 2015. The order was based on the decision by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in December pre-empting California’s meal and rest break rules. Another part of the lawsuit, alleging U.S. Xpress’s mileage-based compensation system violates California minimum wage laws, is still pending.
Speaking on behalf of U.S. Xpress, Jim Hanson, a partner with the Scopelitis law firm in Indianapolis, Indiana pointed out that the district court ruled it could only enforce the FMCSA’s preemption decision and lacked the authority to decide the merits of the regulator’s decision.
“This case is important, because it should now bring all litigation in California district and state courts related to the state’s meal and rest break rules to a halt – no more discovery, no more depositions,” Hanson told FreightWaves. “The only court that has jurisdiction to hear the merits to the challenges of FMCSA’s decision is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.”
There are currently four such appeals filed with the 9th Circuit, including the state of California and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Hanson pointed out that the court did give the plaintiffs the right to file to reconsider if the 9th Circuit reverses the FMCSA’s decision. “But we don’t think that will happen, because the FMCSA’s decision was well-reasoned and shows how the California meal and rest break rules are incompatible with federal hours of service (HOS) regulations for drivers in California.”
The FMCSA decision, which granted petitions submitted by the American Trucking Associations and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association, came after years of arguing over California’s right to regulate meal and rest breaks for truck drivers. The agency ruled that the state can’t dictate those regulations for commercial truck drivers.
The associations claimed that California’s rules, which stipulated that truck drivers must stop for a 30-minute break after five hours, violated HOS regulations that require a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving. The conflict between state and federal law could potentially require truck drivers to take two 30-minute breaks in an 11-hour driving day when in California, the groups asserted.
It has also led to several class action lawsuits by truckers who said they have not been allowed to take their 30-minute break after five hours and has also created confusion as to which rule to follow.