The U.S. District Court in Los Angeles Tuesday will begin hearing testimony in the American Trucking Associations lawsuit challenging the concession requirements in the Port of Los Angeles clean-truck plan, but a final decision in the landmark litigation could be years away.
"There definitely will be an appeal, no matter who wins," said Cameron W. Roberts, a partner in the Los Angeles law firm Roberts Kehagiaras.
Furthermore, District Court Judge Christina Snyder could disappoint those who seek an all-encompassing ruling declaring whether or not the Port of Los Angeles concession requirements are legal in their entirety.
"I expect the court will take a piecemeal approach," Roberts told the annual conference of the Transportation & Logistics Council Monday in San Diego. She could extend her ruling last year in which she issued a preliminary injunction against certain requirements such as the port's employee-driver mandate, while allowing other concession requirements pertaining to truck safety to stand.
The Los Angeles clean-truck case is significant because it tests the limits of federal pre-emption authority and public policy decisions based on environmental goals, issues that other port cities such as Oakland, New York and Newark, N.J., are also interested in, Roberts said.
The Port of Los Angeles maintains that its attempts to regulate harbor trucking are allowed under the safety exception to the federal pre-emption law reserving for the federal government the authority to regulate the rates, routes and services of motor carriers engaged in interstate commerce.
In an earlier ruling, Judge Snyder issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Los Angeles from mandating that all trucking companies serving the port phase employee drivers into their fleets until there are no more independent contractor drivers by Dec. 31, 2013.
This ruling disappointed environmental and labor interests, especially the Teamsters union, which is attempting to organize harbor truck drivers nationwide. Unions, by law, can not organize independent contractors.
Judge Snyder also issued a preliminary injunction against other concession requirements such as restrictions on the parking of rigs, motor carrier hiring preferences, a requirement that trucking companies demonstrate proof of financial responsibility and similar requirements that affect the operations of motor carriers.
The judge determined that the port can enforce certain concession requirements pertaining to motor carrier safety, such as mandating that drivers have a federal Transportation Worker Identification Credential and that the trucks meet the port's strict emissions standards and be equipped with RFID tags.
Even though the Los Angeles clean-truck case will be a precedent setter, it could lose some of its importance if labor and environmental groups succeed in amending the federal pre-emption law to allow ports to have limited regulatory authority over harbor trucking.
"If you don't like the law, what's the smart play? Change the law to broaden the exception," Roberts said.
Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org.