Alexander M. Chemers Los Angeles Author  

Melis Atalay Los Angeles Author

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the hours of service for drivers of certain property-carrying commercial motor vehicles. The FMCSA’s regulations include meal and rest break rules that generally prohibit drivers from driving if they have gone eight hours without a thirty-minute off-duty or sleeper-berth break. Drivers must also be provided with breaks any time they feel fatigued or are otherwise unable to safely drive.

The FMCSA previously found that these federal regulations preempt California’s meal and rest break rules for covered drivers. Last year, in International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 2785 v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the FMCSA’s preemption order by finding that covered drivers do not need to comply with California’s requirements.

Picking up where the Ninth Circuit left off, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, recently reiterated that the FMCSA preemption applies broadly to covered drivers. The decisionEspinoza v. Hepta Run, Inc.—is published and thus binding on California trial courts.

At issue in Espinoza was the trial court’s order denying summary adjudication of a short-haul driver’s meal and rest break claims. Unlike long-haul drivers, short-haul drivers are not required to take thirty-minute breaks. Based on this exception, the plaintiff argued—and the trial court agreed—that federal preemption did not apply to short-haul drivers, who are exempted from the FMCSA’s thirty-minute rest break rule.

The appellate court disagreed, explaining that it “decline[d] to adopt such a strained and cramped interpretation of the FMCSA’s preemption order.” Rather, the court stated, the “common sense interpretation” is that the FMCSA’s regulations still preempt California’s break requirements for short haul drivers. One of the FMCSA’s proffered reasons for regulating breaks—building flexibility to allow drivers to decide when they safely need to take breaks—would be frustrated if short-haul drivers were required to take breaks pursuant to California law.

“Given that short haul drivers are not required to take any specified rest breaks under the federal rules, the Agency’s concern over California’s additional rest break requirement would be heightened for short haul drivers, not diminished,” the court wrote.

The court therefore concluded that it was error for the trial court to have found that California’s meal and rest break laws for short-haul drivers were not preempted by the FMCSA’s regulations.

The Espinoza decision recognizes that covered drivers are subject to a comprehensive scheme of federal regulations. It further confirms that the FMCSA’s meal and rest break preemption applies broadly to the trucking industry.