Federal Preemption of Meal and Rest Breaks is Gaining Steam

In a significant decision for transportation companies operating in California, a federal district court judge recently dismissed putative class claims brought by truck drivers who alleged meal and rest break violations under California law.

In Cole v. CRST, Inc., 2012 WL 4479237 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 27, 2012), Judge Virginia A. Phillips decided that based on the pleadings alone, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA), 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1), preempts meal period and rest break claims brought by driver-employees against CRST, a motor carrier with operations in California.

Congress enacted the FAAAA in 1994 to prohibit states from enacting or enforcing laws related to the prices, routes (the courses of travel), or services (the system for picking up, sorting, and carrying goods) of a motor carrier with respect to the transportation of property. The overall goal of Congress was to help ensure that transportation prices, routes, and services reflected the maximum reliance on competitive market forces, thereby stimulating efficiency innovation, low prices, variety, and quality.

This is the fourth such decision in 2012, as it follows three decisions by other courts in the Eastern and Central Districts of California. In Esquivel v. Vistar Corp., 2012 WL 516094 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 8, 2012) the court granted a Rule 12(b)(6) motion dismissing the meal and rest break claims brought by drivers. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party files a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) to assert that the plaintiff’s complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In other words, the defendant files the motion after receiving the complaint and well before the parties ever go to trial. In Aguiar v. California Sierra Express, Inc., the court similarly granted a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. In Campbell v. Vitran Express, Inc., 2012 WL 2317233 (C.D. Cal. June 8, 2012) the court granted a Rule 12(c) motion dismissing the meal and rest break claims brought by drivers. Like Rule 12(b)(6), Rule 12(c) provides a vehicle for the parties to move to dismiss the case based on the pleadings.

In Cole, the court granted a Rule 12(c) motion, finding that, as a matter of law, the FAAAA preempts meal and rest break claims brought by driver-employees of a motor carrier. The court concluded:

California’s Meal and Rest Break Laws are preempted by the FAAAA because the laws affect a carrier’s routes, services, and prices. First, the Meal and Rest Break Laws affect routes by limiting the carriers to a smaller set of possible routes. Drivers must select routes that allow for the logistical requirements of stopping and breaking and they may be forced to take shorter or fewer routes. Second, the Meal and Rest Break Laws affect services by dictating when services may not be performed, by increasing the time it takes to complete a delivery, and by effectively regulating the frequency and scheduling of transportation. Finally, price is affected by the Meal and Rest Break Laws by virtue of the laws effect on routes and services.

The court went on to explain that evidence outside of the pleadings “is not necessary to determine whether the Meal and Rest Break Laws have an impact on prices, routes, or services.” In other words, preemption is not based on a factual determination.

Federal district courts in California now generally agree that California’s meal and rest period requirements are preempted by the FAAAA. However, given that there are at least two appeals currently pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on this issue, employers should be cautious and continue to provide meal and rest breaks for their drivers in California until the issue is finally resolved—hopefully by next year.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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