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Update on Trucker Meal and Rest Breaks

On January 19, 2022 the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District in the matter of Guillermo Espinoza v. Hepta Run, Inc. held California’s meal and rest break rules governing the transportation industry are expressly preempted by federal regulations governing truck drivers with respect to both short-haul commercial drivers and long-haul commercial drivers.

Plaintiff, Espinoza sued his former employer, Hepta Run, Inc. asserting causes of action for Labor Code wage and hour violations, unfair business practices, and representative claims for penalties under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) occurring while on short hauls. Defendant employer, Hepta Run Inc. moved for summary judgment on only the failure to provide meal and rest period allegations arguing that California statutes governing meal and rest periods were preempted by federal regulations. Although the trial court denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the Court of Appeal reversed in favor of Hepta Run, Inc. finding that Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations did indeed expressly preempt California meal and rest break rules.

California law provides every nonexempt employee in the transportation industry must be provided with a 30-minute meal period for every five hours worked and a 10-minute rest period for every four hours worked. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11090, subds. 11 & 12; see also § 226.7, sub. (c).) However, the federal Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 (MCSA) empowers the Secretary of Transportation to “prescribe regulations on commercial motor vehicle safety,” including regulations ensuring “the responsibilities imposed on operators of commercial motor vehicles do not impair their ability to operate the vehicles safely.” (49 U.S.C. § 31136(a).) The most well-known of these regulations is the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations, which impose limits on driving-time and on-duty time for commercial truck drivers. (49 C.F.R. § 395.3 (2020).)

Pursuant to federal HOS regulations property-carrying commercial truck drivers are subject to daily and weekly limits on driving-time and on-duty time. Specifically, drivers are mandated to have 10 consecutive hours off duty between shifts and long-haul drivers are required to take a 30-minute rest break for every eight hours worked, while short-haul drivers are exempted from the 30-minute rest break requirement (49 C.F.R. § 395.3; see also § 395.3(a)(ii) (2020).)

In response to petitions from two industry groups, FMCSA issued an order in 2018 stating that California meal and rest break rules (§ 226.7) were preempted by the federal hours of service (HOS) regulations pursuant to the MCSA. Accordingly, the FMCSA found that California’s laws were “additional to or more stringent than the federal safety regulations [and] had no safety benefit beyond those provided by the federal regulations and would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce…[and thus] California may no longer enforce the [Meal and Rest Break] Rules with respect to drivers of property-carrying [commercial motor vehicles] subject to FMCSA’s HOS rules.” (83 Fed.Reg. 67480.) Only three years late, in 2021, the Ninth Circuit upheld this determination by FMCSA finding the agency’s “decision reflects a permissible interpretation of the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 and is not arbitrary or capricious.” (International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 2785 v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (9th Cir. 2021) 986 F.3d 841, 846.)

Plaintiff, Espinoza did not directly challenge the findings of the FMCSA, but rather argued the federal preemption determination did not apply to short-haul drivers. In other words, he argued for a narrow interpretation that because short-haul drivers are exempted from the 30-minute rest break requirement (49 C.F.R. § 395.3(a)(ii), it should follow that FMCSA’s general preemption order does not apply to short-haul drivers. The Court of Appeal rejected Espinoza’s argument declining to adopt “such a strained and cramped interpretation of the FMCSA’s preemption order.” (Espinoza v. Hepta Run, Inc., et al. (Cal. Ct. App., Jan. 19, 2022 No. B306292) (2022 WL 167770).)

Thus, the California Court of Appeal confirmed California’s meal and rest break rules are expressly preempted for both short-haul and long-haul drivers by federal HOS regulations – provided that the driver is operating a property-carrying commercial motor vehicle and is subject to FMCSA rules.