A federal judge has dismissed a putative class action brought by truck drivers who complained they were denied meal breaks in violation of a state law after finding that such claims are preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act.

In its February 8, 2012, decision in Esquivel et. al. v. Vistar Corp., the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California held that the truck drivers’ claims under California labor law were preempted because the FAAAA provides that “a State … may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision … related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier … with respect to the transportation of property.”

The plaintiffs, a group of route delivery truck drivers, alleged that the defendant carrier scheduled their delivery routes such that the plaintiffs were unable to take duty-free meal breaks and were not properly compensated for the missed meal breaks in violation of California labor laws.

In dismissing the case, the court looked to the Ninth Circuit’s test for preemption under the FAAAA enunciated in the September 2011 decision in American Trucking Associations Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (ATA II). In a “borderline,” case, the Ninth Circuit held, “the proper inquiry is whether the provision, directly or indirectly, ‘binds the carrier to a particular price, route or service and thereby interferes with competitive market forces within the…industry.’”

In applying the test, the court followed the reasoning of the Southern District of California’s October 2011 decision in Dilts v. Penske Logistics, LLC. It concluded that California meal and rest break laws have the effect of binding drivers to a particular price, route, and service, interfering with competitive market forces within the industry. The court determined that the meal and rest break laws bind drivers to a particular route by depriving them of the ability to take any route that does not offer adequate locations for stopping, and force drivers to take shorter or fewer routes. The court then found that the meal and rest break laws have a substantial impact on trucking services because the laws affect the number of routes the driver may take, the types of roads the driver may take, and the amount of time it takes a driver to reach his or her destination. Finally, the court concluded that the cumulative effect of California’s meal and rest break laws on the defendant’s routes and services have a substantial impact on prices.

The court rejected the plaintiffs’ attempt to analogize the meal and rest break laws to California’s wage laws—which have been found not to be preempted by the FAAAA—opining that, unlike the meal and break laws, the effect of California’s wage laws on prices, routes, or services is only tenuous.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the carrier could comply with California’s meal and rest break laws without significantly altering its routes, services, or prices by entering into on-duty meal period agreements or paying drivers an extra hour of work in lieu of scheduling breaks. The court found no indication that the carrier could satisfy the criteria necessary to establish an exception to the off-duty meal requirement, and also believed the plaintiffs’ proposal would conflict with California Labor Code Section 226.7(a), which prohibits employers from requiring employees to work through state-mandated meal periods.

In light of the Dilts and Esquivel decisions, any trucking company alleged to have violated state laws regarding meal, rest periods, or any other state-mandated breaks would be advised to consider federal preemption under the FAAAA as a complete defense to such claims.

Ballard Spahr’s Labor and Employment attorneys routinely advise employers across the country on the interplay between federal and state labor laws. If you have questions, please contact the member of the Labor and Employment Group with whom you work. 

Copyright © 2012 by Ballard Spahr LLP.
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