Saturday August 13th 2022

Booth LLP Solidifies Meal and Rest Break Preemption for Interstate Drivers

January 26, 2022

Booth LLP congratulates Hillary Arrow Booth and Allan Bareng on obtaining a favorable ruling for our clients, and the trucking industry, upholding the preemption of California’s meal and rest break laws as applied to short haul interstate drivers. (Espinoza v. Hepta Run, Inc, et al. https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B306292.PDF)

In 2018, after extensive review and analysis, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) issued an order stating that the California meal and rest break rules (Cal. Lab. Code § 226.7) were preempted by federal law as applied to interstate commercial drivers subject to the federal hours of service (“HOS”) regulations. The analysis included a finding that the California rules were more stringent than the corresponding federal HOS regulations and did not contain any additional safety benefits. Since that time, plaintiffs’ attorneys have sought to limit the impact of the federal preemption, focusing largely on what they argued was a short haul exemption to the preemption.

In the Espinoza case, Booth LLP represented Hepta Run, Inc. against plaintiff Guillermo Espinoza who asserted causes of action for Labor Code wage and hour violations, unfair business practices in violation of California’s unfair competition law (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.) and representative claims for penalties under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.).  We moved for summary adjudication on the fifth and sixth causes of action alleging systematic failure to provide meal and rest periods, arguing the California statutes governing meal and rest periods were preempted as stated in the FMCSA order. In opposition, plaintiff argued that the federal regulations did not apply to short haul truck drivers like him. His position was that because short haul drivers are exempted from the 30-minute rest break rule contained within the HOS, the preemption order does not apply to them. The trial court agreed with plaintiff and denied the summary adjudication motion on July 30, 2019.

After trial, Hepta Run appealed a number of issues, including the denial of the motion for summary adjudication. On Appeal, plaintiff made the same argument as he did to the trial court. Contrary to the trial court, the Court of Appeal recognized that the preemption order expressly applies to all drivers subject to the HOS regulations, and that short haul drivers are subject to those regulations even though they are exempted from the rest break rule. The Court of Appeal declined to adopt the “strained and cramped interpretation” of the preemption order urged by plaintiff and instead agreed with our position that the preemption order does not exclude short haul drivers even though they are exempted from the rest break portion of the HOS regulations.

In particular, the Court of Appeal found regarding short haul drivers: “The fact that those 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 order to suggest they are.”  Further, “[g]iven that short haul drivers are not required to take any specified rest breaks under the federal rules, the Agency’s [FMSCA’s] concern over California’s additional rest break requirement would be heightened for short haul drivers, not diminished. Accordingly, the FMCSA’s reasoning supports applying preemption to short haul drivers rather than excluding them.” 

This published opinion is good news for all motor carriers operating in California as it shuts the door on plaintiffs’ attorneys repeated attempts to create a short haul exemption, and will allow other motor carriers to more easily defeat similar claims.

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