Thursday, February 25, 2010

ATA Loses Appeal Over SoCal Trucking Plan, But Comes Out Ahead

The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Wednesday handed the American Trucking Associations a small win over the Southern California ports' Clean Truck Program, but refused to block the entire program as the ATA had requested.

This was the second visit before the appeals panel by the ATA regarding the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles truck programs. Last year, a different three-member 9th Circuit panel blocked portions of the two ports' truck programs, including a controversial component of the Port of Los Angeles' plan that would allow the port to mandate that only per-hour employees operate ports' servicing drayage trucks. Following a lower court's imposition of the earlier injunction, the ATA went back to the appeals court late last year arguing that the lower court injunction did not go far enough.

Wednesday's ruling upheld the previously injuncted portions of the ports truck plan and also found that an additional component of the plan should also be injuncted.

The truck programs began as a single plan in 2007, jointly developed by the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports and seeking to cut diesel truck emissions by up to 80 percent by 2012. The original plan called for the ports to implement progressively more restrictive bans on older model trucks until only 2007 or newer trucks were operating in the two ports. However, the two plans quickly morphed into a trucking re-regulation plan that sought to use an access-licensing scheme to limit which trucking firms could and could not operate in the ports. This access-licensing scheme would require all trucking firms wishing to do business in the port to meet certain ports-defined criteria including financial, labor, security and safety issues.

The ATA, which represent more than 37,000 motor carriers nationwide, filed suit in federal court in July 2008 arguing that the access license system is preempted by federal laws that govern the routes, rates, and services of interstate commerce. The ports argued that they are exempt from federal preemption under a motor vehicle safety clause.

Eventually the two ports developed slightly differing plans, with the Long Beach port adopting a registration-type system focused on turning over the older trucks as quickly as possible and the Los Angeles port sticking to the access license system that among other things required trucking firms to hire only per-hour employees.

Late last year, the Port of Long Beach reached an agreement with the ATA to remove itself from the litigation, while still moving forward with the clean air provisions of their truck plan. Los Angeles port and City Hall officials have repeatedly declared that they will continue to fight the ATA suit and not abandon the employee-mandate.

Wednesday's appeals panel ruling, while not blocking all of the portions of the truck program access licensing scheme the ATA had sought, upheld the earlier injunction against certain portions of the truck plans and also blocked an additional component that required – as part of obtaining a port-issued access license – drayage trucks to carry a placard with port-defined wording. The appeals panel ruled that federal law covering the placement of placards on trucks involved in interstate commerce preempts local regulation.

"Yesterday's ruling maintained the status quo and added an additional item – the placards – to the injunction," said Curtis Whalen of the ATA.

However, the appeals panel on Wednesday did list eight provisions of the Los Angeles port's access license criteria that could remain in place because these items were determined to fall under the federal preemption exception for motor vehicle safety.

These include: requiring that access license recipients be licensed motor carriers in good standing; requiring that access license recipients use only “permitted trucks;” mandating that motor carriers are solely responsible for their drivers and employees; requiring that motor carriers prepare a truck maintenance plan and holding motor carriers responsible for vehicle condition and safety; mandating that motor carriers keep records of driver enrollment in the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (“TWIC”) program; requiring that motor carriers ensure that each truck entering and leaving Port property is equipped with a means of Clean Trucks Program Compliance Verification; ensuring that motor carriers comply with federal, state, municipal, and port security laws; and requiring that motor carriers update and maintain accurate data in the port-operated drayage truck registry, access license registry, and driver registry and allowing Los Angeles port officials to inspect motor carriers’ property and records regarding compliance with the access license agreements. None of these items were previously injuncted and remain in effect at the Los Angeles port.

On Thursday, US District Court Judge Christina Snyder considered motions by both sides for summary judgment in the case. The Los Angeles port argued that the entire case, and injunction, should be thrown out. The ATA argued the opposite. Judge Snyder denied both motions and determined that the matter should be settled in full court. She set April 20 as the start of the trial.

The ATA has argued that the truck plans violate federal interstate commerce laws that preempt any local regulation. The appeals panel, in issuing the first injunction last year, determined that the port is likely to lose on the employee-mandate issue on the grounds of federal preemption. The appeal panel also found that the ATA is likely to prevail on other aspects of the case involving the already injuncted components of the access license scheme.

In the meantime, numerous press outlets reported Wednesday's ruling as a victory for the Los Angeles port, despite the ATA walking away from the court with additional items of the truck plan being injuncted.

Several local media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times went so far as to report that the employee-mandate portion of the injunction had been rescinded by the ruling, an action that the court did not take.