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California Court of Appeals Rules Short Haul Drivers’ Claims Preempted by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Rules

In Espinoza v. Hepta Run, Inc., the California Court of Appeal reiterated that federal law preempts California meal and rest period requirements for motor carriers and confirmed such preemption also applies to short-haul drivers.

A truck driver filed a complaint against his employer alleging various wage and hour violations, including failure to provide meal and rest periods. In 2019, the employer filed a motion for summary adjudication as a matter of law to dispose of the meal and rest period claim, arguing that California’s statutes governing meal and rest periods were preempted by federal regulations concerning commercial motor vehicle safety. The trial court denied the motion and the matter proceeded to a bench trial. At the bench trial, the employer was found liable for California Labor Code violations.

The employer appealed. The California Court of Appeal then considered whether the trial court erred in denying the dispositive motion pertaining to the alleged failure to provide meal and rest periods.

In 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit had held that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is responsible for regulating commercial motor carrier safety and that federal law preempts California’s meal and rest break rules. In this appeal, the plaintiff-truck driver argued that the preemption did not apply to him as a short-haul driver because short-haul drivers are exempted from the 30-minute rule break under federal regulations.

The Court of Appeal found for the employer, holding “[i]t is undisputed that certain [federal] hours of service rules apply to short-haul drivers, such as the daily limits on driving time and the daily and weekly limits on on-duty time. Thus the [hours of service] rules, as a general matter, apply to short-haul drivers. The fact that such drivers are exempted from one rule does not remove them from the universe of drivers subject to the hours of service rules, and it is not reasonable to read the language of the [FMCSA] order to suggest they are.” Based on its finding that preemption by federal regulations applied to the plaintiff’s claim, the Court of Appeal reversed the denial of the employer’s motion for summary judgment.  In so doing, the trial court’s later judgment for the driver was overturned, as well.

This ruling provides more clarity to motor carriers in the state as to the application of the federal preemption to California’s meal and rest break requirements.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2022National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 32
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About this Author

Arthur K. Cunningham Litigation Attorney Jackson Lewis Orange County
Principal

Arthur K. Cunningham is a Principal in the Orange County, California, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Arthur has more than 20 years of experience litigating complex matters in state and federal courts and courts of appeal.

Arthur has handled more than 35 jury trials in state and federal courts and has tried cases to verdict in each of the following areas:

  • Defense of law enforcement and corrections officers and agencies in civil rights and tort matters in state...

949-885-1360
Stephanie Joy M. Tañada Attorney Employment Law Jackson Lewis Orange County
Associate

Stephanie Joy M. Tañada is an associate in the Orange County, California, office of Jackson Lewis P.C.

Her practice focuses on representing employers in workplace law matters, including litigation, preventive advice, and counseling. While attending law school, Stephanie was a member of the Florida State University Law Review.

949-885-1360
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