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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, is tasked with issuing regulations on commercial motor vehicle safety. The FMCSA also has authority to determine that state laws on commercial motor vehicle safety are preempted, based on criteria Congress has specified.

In 2011, the FMCSA revised the federal hours-of-service regulations, which imposed certain limits on the driving time of commercial motor vehicle drivers, to require that drivers working more than eight hours must take at least one 30-minute break during the first eight hours of work, though the driver has flexibility as to when the break occurs.

The California rules are different. California’s rules are contained in wage orders issued by the State’s Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC), which is tasked with protecting workers’ “health, safety, and welfare.”

California’s minimum required break (MRB) rules generally require that employers allow commercial truck drivers to take more rest breaks, at greater frequency, and with less flexibility as to when breaks occur.

In 2018, two transportation industry groups asked the FMCSA to revisit a prior determination that federal law did not preempt California’s MRB rules.

The FMCSA, after seeking public comment on the preemption question, declared California’s MRB rules preempted as applied to operators of property-carrying motor vehicles subject to the federal hours-of-service regulations.

California’s Labor Commissioner and three other sets of petitioners (labor organizations and affected individuals) filed timely petitions for review.

The question was whether the FMCSA’s preemption decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” or “in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or short of statutory right.”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the preemption of federal over state law in the published opinion of International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 2785 v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The court concluded that the FMCSA reasonably determined that California’s MRB rules imposed additional and more stringent requirements than the FMCSA’s own regulations, and that the FMCSA simply determined that, in its view, federal regulations adequately and more appropriately balanced the competing interests between safety and economic burden.