Federal Preemption of California’s Meal and Break Laws for Interstate Motor Carriers Applies Retroactively
In early 2021, the 9th Circuit upheld federal preemption of California’s meal and rest break laws for interstate motor carrier drivers, in the consolidated case of International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In that matter, the 9th circuit held the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s determination that federal law preempts California’s meal and rest break rules for interstate motor carriers subject to the FMCSA’s rest break regulations was a permissible interpretation.
The 9th Circuit panel revisited the issue in Valiente v. Swift Transportation. The issue presented was whether the decision in International Brotherhood of Teamsters barred plaintiffs from proceeding with lawsuits that commenced before the decision was issued.
The plaintiffs argued against the retroactive application. The 9th Circuit applied a two-step test for retroactivity, holding under the first step that because Congress clearly intended for the FMSCA to have the power to halt enforcement of state laws, and because the FMSCA intended for this particular preemption determination to apply to pending lawsuits, the FMSCA’s decision prohibits present enforcement of California’s meal and rest break rules regardless of when the underlying conduct occurred.
The 9th Circuit did not reach the second step of the test for retroactivity of a decision.
This ruling means that any case filed after the FMCSA’s determination in 2018, and continuing through the present, would be barred by the 9th Circuit’s prior decision in International Brotherhood of Teamsters.