In January 2021, the Ninth Circuit upheld a 2018 ruling by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), which found that federal law preempts California state meal and rest break laws as applied to drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles. A few months later, the United States Supreme Court denied a petition challenging the Ninth Circuit’s decision. We previously wrote about the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, and the Supreme Court’s denial, in a post that you can read here.
Despite the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, many have argued that there was an open question as to whether or not the FMCSA’s preemption decision applied retroactively. This question has now been answered by the Ninth Circuit. In Valiente v. Swift Transp. Co. of Ariz., plaintiffs were former hourly truck drivers who had filed a class action lawsuit alleging violations of California’s meal and rest break rules and derivative state-law claims. The plaintiffs’ lawsuit was filed before the FMCSA issued its preemption decision; but after the preemption decision was issued, the district court held that it had no authority to enforce California’s meal and rest break laws. The district court then sua sponte granted summary judgment for the defendant and dismissed the case.
The Plaintiffs argued that the presumption against retroactive application of laws should operate to allow their lawsuit to proceed despite the FMCSA’s preemption decision. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, finding “[b]ecause Congress intended for the FMCSA to have the power to halt enforcement of state laws, and because the FMCSA intended for this particular preemption decision to apply to pending lawsuits, the FMCSA’s decision prohibits present enforcement of California’s MRB rules regardless of when the underlying conduct occurred.” This ruling confirms, once again that regardless of when the conduct underlying the lawsuit occurred or when the case was filed, the claims are preempted by the FMCSA.