The transportation industry awaits a decision by the Ninth Circuit in Commissioner for the State of California v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Nos. 19-70413, 18-73488, 19-70323 and 19-70329, as to whether the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Order in December 2018 that California’s meal and rest break rules are preempted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations will stand.
Federal hours of service regulations generally limit truck drivers to 11 hours of driving time within 14 hours of on-duty time and require 10 consecutive hours of rest after that period. However, California requires that employees be provided 30 minutes of mealtime if they work 5 hours a day, and another 30 minutes of mealtime if they work over 10 hours a day. California also has rest break requirements. Up to December of 2018, the FMCSA had held that its rules do not preempt California’s state laws because they constituted laws of general applicability, not laws aimed at commercial motor vehicle safety. However, the FMCSA reversed course in 2018.
Oral arguments were heard in November 2020. Although the Court seemed persuaded by the Plaintiffs, this question will ultimately turn on Chevron deference provided to agencies to interpret statutes. Whatever the decision, it will have wide-ranging consequences as California has some of the biggest ports in the U.S., the FMCSA also issued a similar order in November 2020 regarding Washington’s meal and rest break laws, and states seem to copy California regulatory schemes.