Transportation and Employment Law Alert: Federal Law Does Not Preempt California’s Meal and Rest Break Laws

In Dilts v. Penske Logistics, LLC (No. 12-55705, filed 7/9/2014), the Ninth Circuit held that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA) does not preempt California’s meal and rest break laws. The FAAA specifically provides that “[s]tates may not enact or enforce a law . . . related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier . . . with respect to the transportation of property.” (49 U.S.C. ยง 14501(c)(1).) The Ninth Circuit concluded that this was not a close case on preemption, finding that “California’s meal and rest break laws plainly are not the sorts of laws ‘related to’ prices, routes, or services that Congress intended to preempt.”

The plaintiffs, a certified class of appliance delivery drivers and installers, alleged that the company failed to provide drivers with rest and meal periods required under California law, which generally requires a 30-minute paid meal break for every 5 hours worked and a paid 10-minute rest break for every 4 hours worked. The plaintiffs alleged that the company created a working environment that discouraged employees from taking their breaks. The district court held on summary judgment that the enforcement of state law would affect a motor carrier’s prices, routes, or services, and therefore, the FAAAA preempted state law. Specifically, the district court concluded that California’s meal and rest break laws impose fairly rigid timing requirements dictating exactly when and for how long drivers must take breaks, which would restrict the routes that a motor carrier can select.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, reasoning that the state laws at issue do not set prices, mandate or prohibit certain routes, or tell motor carriers what services they may or may not provide. The court noted that while motor carriers may have to take into account the meal and rest break requirements when scheduling routes, California’s laws do not bind motor carriers to specific prices, routes, or services. Instead, the court found the meal and rest break laws analogous to state wage laws, or speed limits and weight restrictions, i.e., “normal background rules” applicable to almost all employers doing business in California. The court was also persuaded by the Department of Transportation’s position on the issue and conclusion that there was no showing of an actual or likely significant effect on prices, routes, or services.

The Dilts decision is significant for its impact on an employer’s flexibility and costs. Frequent stops during driving routes makes administering those routes difficult and expensive. Carriers may have to reroute trucks and reduce their delivery services to customers in order to comply with California law. The decision might also negatively impact drivers who are forced to stop to accommodate break times in potentially unsafe conditions (e.g., along highway routes). Nevertheless, California employers are well advised to review their meal and rest break policies for compliance.

This document is intended to provide you with general information about transportation law and employment law developments. The contents of this document are not intended to provide specific legal advice. This communication may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions.

July 10, 2014