On October 4, 2021, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari on a petition challenging the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that California’s strict meal and rest period rules do not apply to commercial truck drivers engaged in interstate commerce. The Court’s denial of the petition leaves in place a decision that came as a welcome sigh of relief for employers in the trucking industry.
For many years, California courts insisted that truck drivers in California were required to be given meal and rest breaks in accordance with California law. These decisions created difficulties for employers tasked with keeping track of the timing and frequency of breaks taken by their drivers, who are often out working on their routes on their own and without direct supervision. The decisions also created additional administrative burdens and costs for employers seeking to comply not only with the federal hours-of-service regulations for commercial drivers, but also with California’s laws that require more breaks, more often, and provide less flexibility than federal law.
In 2018, this position was challenged in an administrative action before the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”). See California’s Meal and Rest Break Rules for Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers, 83 Fed. Reg. 67470-01, 2018 WL 6809341 (Dec. 28, 2018) (determining that the meal and rest break rules were in fact “on commercial motor vehicle safety” and could not be enforced under 49 U.S.C. § 31141(c)). In that action, the FMCSA ruled that federal law preempted California state law on regulating meals and rest breaks.
In January 2021, the Ninth Circuit upheld the FMCSA’s ruling. In International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 2785 v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 986 F.3d 841 (9th Cir. 2021), the Ninth Circuit held that federal law preempted California’s meal and rest break rules as applied to drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles who are subject to FMCSA safety regulations. Those regulations apply to drivers of commercial motor vehicles weighing 10,001 lbs. or more who operate in interstate commerce. Several months later, a petition for writ of certiorari was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
On October 4, 2021 that petition was denied without comment. While the denial does not necessarily mean that the Supreme Court agrees with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, the Supreme Court’s decision not to take action on the petition means that federal district courts in the Ninth Circuit are bound by the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. It also means, as the majority of Courts interpreting the FMCSA’s and Ninth Circuit’s rulings have found, that California’s federal district courts have no authority to enforce California’s meal and rest break rules as to property-carrying commercial drivers, regardless of when the underlying conduct allegedly occurred.