Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Appeals Panel Agrees to Speed Up Los Angeles Port Truck Plan Suit Appeal

A federal appellate panel has reversed its earlier decision and agreed to speed up an appeals hearing of ongoing litigation over the Port of Los Angeles clean truck program.

In mid-November, the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request to expedite an appeal regarding the truck program litigation. Immediately after the decision, the trucking industry defendant in the case, the American Trucking Associations, asked the appellate court to reconsider the request.

The expedited schedule for the appeals hearing will push the case forward by about two months, according to ATA officials.

The appellate panel order now sets the deadline for the opening ATA brief on December 28, 2010; the port answering brief is due January 31, 2011; and the optional ATA reply brief is due within 14 days after service of the answering brief. The Ninth Circuit stated that after the briefings are complete, the case "shall be calendared as soon as possible.”

The ATA sued the port over key components of the truck program in 2008, claiming that the part-environmental, part-social justice program violates federal interstate commerce laws.

District Court Judge Christina Snyder ruled against the ATA in the suit in September, arguing that the port is exempt for federal commerce laws because it operates as a "market participant" in port drayage. In her ruling she also dissolved an injunction against portions of the truck plan. At the request of the ATA, Judge Snyder subsequently reinstated the injunction against the employee mandate until the appeals court can hear the case.

In her reinstatement ruling Judge Snyder said that while confident of her earlier ruling in favor of the port, 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. Critics of the truck program's non-environmental components, such as the employee-mandate, have accused the port of engaging in social engineering above and beyond their role as a commercial entity.

The Port of Long Beach, which helped develop the truck plan and was a defendant in the original ATA 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.