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California Court Demonstrates Impact of FMCSA Preemption Decision

As discussed on this blog, late last year the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ("FMCSA") determined that California's Meal and Rest Break rules are pre-empted by federal law, as applied to property-carrying commercial motor vehicle drivers covered by the FMCSA's Hours of Service regulations. Less than five months later, the implications of this are being seen in court.

On May 3, 2019, the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted partial summary judgment in the case of Ayala v. U.S. Xpress. In the case, the plaintiffs argued the U.S. Xpress had failed to comply with the meal and rest break requirements mandated under California law. The court dismissed this claim citing the FMCSA decision, stating it did not possess authority to review the decision.

While the court indicated the FMCSA decision could still be reviewed and reversed by the Ninth Circuit, its decision not to address the merits of the claim is an incredible shift that could provide a massive assist to motor carriers facing lawsuits under California Meal and Rest Break rules. The fact that the court refused to even address the merits means motor carriers in this position have, for the time being, a strong shield against such claims that could lead to the lawsuits being dismissed before the case even gets started.

With the enormity of the FMCSA determination, together with the Central District's decision in Ayala, it's clear that experienced transportation and employment lawyers are vital in understanding how to proceed in both avoiding these lawsuits and in dealing with them should they come. This is especially important given the current flux of the situation, as the FMCSA decision could be reviewed by the Ninth Circuit very soon.

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