California’s Meal and Rest Break Regulations are Preempted by Federal Hours of Service Regulations for Both Long Haul and Short Haul Commercial Truck Drivers

In the matter of Espinoza v. Hepta Run, Inc., et al. (Cal. Ct. App., Jan. 19, 2022, No. B306292) 2022 WL 167770, the Court of Appeal considered the following issue: Whether the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s determination that federal hours of service regulations preempted California meal and break regulations apply to short haul commercial truck drivers in addition to long haul drivers.

Plaintiff, Guillermo Espinoza sued his former employer, Hepta Run, Inc. for Labor Code wage and hour violations, unfair business practices, and representative claims for penalties under the Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”). Hepta Run moved for summary adjudication on Espinoza’s claims for failure to provide meal and rest periods, arguing that the California statutes governing meal and rest periods were preempted by federal regulations concerning commercial motor vehicle safety. The trial court denied Hepta Run’s motion, and the defendant later appealed this ruling.

The Second District Court of Appeal examined Hepta Run’s appeal in the broader context of applicable federal regulations. California law requires every nonexempt employee in the transportation industry to be provided with a 30-minute meal period every five hours worked and a 10-minute rest period for every four hours worked. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8 § 11090, subds. 11 & 12.)

At the federal level, the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 enabled the creation of hours of service regulations that impose limits on driving time and on-duty time for commercial truck drivers. (49 C.F.R. § 395.3 (2020).) Pursuant to these federal regulations, commercial truck drivers are subject to daily and weekly limits on driving time and on-duty time and are required to have 10 off-duty hours between shifts. Long haul drivers are also required to take a 30-minute rest break for every eight hours worked. (49 C.F.R. s 395.3(a)(ii).)

In 2018, the question of preemption generally was already considered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which determined that California’s laws pertaining to meal and rest breaks were preempted by the federal hours of service regulations, thus rendering the California requirements unenforceable with respect to drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles subject to the FMCSA’s hours of service rules.

The plaintiff’s argument in Espinoza was not a challenge of this determination by the FMCSA. Rather, he argued that California requirements still applied to him, because the 2018 preemption determination did not apply to short haul drivers. The Court of Appeal declined to adopt the plaintiff’s narrow interpretation of the FMCSA’s preemption order. The court noted that short haul drivers were in fact subject to some federal hours of service rules, and there was therefore no reason their exemption from some but not all hours of service rules should exclude them from the FMCSA’s 2018 preemption determination.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal in Espinoza v. Hepta Run, Inc., et al. effectively confirmed that regardless of whether a California commercial truck driver is considered a long haul or short haul driver, California’s meal and rest break regulations are preempted by federal hours of service regulations—so long as the driver in question is a driver of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles and is subject to the FMCSA’s hours of service rules.

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