Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Court Slow-Tracks ATA Appeal in SoCal Port Trucking Case

Justice may be swift, but not as swift as some would like in California.

The United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week denied a request by the parties involved in litigation over the Port of Los Angeles clean truck program to fast track the latest appearance of the lawsuit before the appellate court.

The American Trucking Associations, with the agreement of the port, asked the Ninth Circuit court on Nov. 2 to expedite the group's appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of the port.

In a one-page denial, the Ninth Circuit pointed to the case's lack in presenting "irreparable harm or possibility of mootness."

The appeal will now take a regular track in the appellate court, a schedule that may not see the case heard for at least two months. This is the third time the case has come before the appellate court. The previous two appearances were during the preliminary injunction phase of the case.

In the meantime, at least one portion of the port's truck program, a mandate requiring port-serving trucking firms to hire only per-hour employees instead of per-load independent owner-operators, remains enjoined by the lower court.

The federal judge who in September shot down the ATA suit against the port, reinstated an injunction against the most contentious portion of the truck program until the appeals court can hear the case.

The ATA, which originally sued the port over non-environmental portions of the truck program in 2008, asked District Court Judge Snyder on Sept. 24 to reinstate the injunction that had been in place during the trial while the group appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The injunction, originally issued by Judge Snyder in 2009, blocked certain portion of the truck plan, including the employee-only mandate, from being implemented by the port.

The employee-only mandate and several other components of an access license plan contained in the Los Angeles port's truck program were cleared for full implementation when Judge Snyder ruled in favor of the port on Sept. 16. As part of the ruling, she also dissolved the original injunction.

However, Judge Snyder subsequently agreed with an ATA motion to reinstate the injunction while the ruling is under appeal. In her reinstatement ruling she said that while confident of her earlier ruling in favor of the truck program, she recognized that "the interpretation and the application of the market participant doctrine in this case presents substantial and novel legal questions."

She also determined that the trucking industry was likely to suffer "irreparable harm" if the employee-only mandate was allowed to be implemented by the port and was later overturned.

The original ATA suit centers around a Los Angeles port truck program that took effect in October 2008 requiring port-servicing drayage firms to sign so-called concession agreements to gain access to port terminals. Firms without such an access license are barred from entering port facilities. The truck plan was originally conceived by the port (at the time including the Port of Long Beach) as a means to bar older polluting trucks and force port-servicing trucking firms to use newer and cleaner burning vehicles, thereby cutting port-generated diesel emissions.

However, Los Angeles port officials included non-environmental criteria in the concession agreements, such as financial, maintenance, insurance, safety, parking and labor criteria. The ATA contends these local port rules are preempted by federal interstate commerce law.

The Port of Long Beach, which was also a defendant in the original lawsuit, reached a court-approved settlement with the ATA in 2009 that allowed the Long Beach port to implement all of the environmental aspects of the truck plan, as well as most of the non-environmental aspects. The Long Beach version of the truck plan never called for an employee-only mandate.