Ninth Circuit Upholds Federal Preemption of California’s Meal And Rest Break Laws For Interstate Motor Carrier Drivers

Jackson Lewis P.C.
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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), within the federal Department of Transportation, is responsible for regulating commercial motor carrier safety. In 2018, the FMCSA determined that federal law preempts California’s meal and rest break rules for interstate motor carrier drivers who are subject to the FMCSA’s rest break regulations.

The FMCSA regulations apply to commercial motor carrier drivers who operate in interstate commerce and meet other specified criteria.

California’s meal and rest break laws generally require commercial truck drivers to take more rest breaks, at greater frequency, and with less flexibility, than the federal regulations.

California’s Labor Commissioner, charged with enforcement of California’s meal and rest break laws, along with other pro-labor organizations, petitioned the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal for review of FMCSA’s preemption determination.

On January 15, 2020, the Ninth Circuit Panel, in the consolidated case of International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, held that the FMCSA’s determination reflected a permissible interpretation of the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984, and denied the petitions for review. The Ninth Circuit’s decision means that for now interstate motor carriers need not comply with California’s meal and rest break laws but must comply with the FMCSA’s rest break requirements. Interstate motor carriers are now permitted to implement uniform rules for drivers regardless of whether the drivers operate within California.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision may not mean interstate motor carriers are forever exempted from California’s meal and rest break regulations. Before 2018, the FMCSA held that preemption did not apply, and the new administration could reverse the FMCSA’s 2018 determination.

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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