Court Hears Closing Arguments in Clean-Trucks Case

Court Hears Closing Arguments in Clean-Trucks Case

The watershed Los Angeles clean-truck lawsuit is one step closer to conclusion, with the port stating in its closing arguments that it is exempt from federal pre-emption law because it is a market participant in seaport and drayage activities.

Also, in closing arguments in the American Trucking Associations versus the city and Port of Los Angeles, port attorneys argued that the requirements imposed upon harbor drayage companies fall within the motor carrier safety exemption of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act.

The ATA, in its closing arguments filed at the weekend with U.S. District Court Judge Christina A. Snyder in Los Angeles, said the port does not meet the "effective procurement" exemption test to prove market participation because the port does not procure drayage services.

Furthermore, ATA argued that Los Angeles failed to prove that its program is genuinely responsive to motor carrier safety, and therefore the port does not qualify for a safety exemption under federal pre-emption. The port did no safety studies before issuing the concession requirements. Also, it showed no proof, for example, that the mandatory use of employee drivers promotes safety. The port maintains that employees are safer than independent contractor drivers.

In their closing arguments as interveners, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Coalition for Clean Air said the port is in fact a market participant in harbor drayage because it invested $60 million in subsidies for clean truck purchases and the new trucks will help Los Angeles remain competitive with other ports.

Judge Snyder will now consider the written arguments and is expected to render her decision in several weeks. While an appeal is possible, Judge Snyder's ruling will represent a milestone in a case that began almost two years ago.

The case is complex and addresses several key issues in harbor trucking nationwide. By far the most important issue is whether a port can require the use of employee drivers, which would open the door to the organizing of harbor truck drivers by the Teamsters union.

Judge Snyder in 2008 denied ATA's request for a preliminary injunction against implementation of the concession requirements. ATA had argued that provisions such as a ban on owner-operator drivers, off-street parking requirements for truckers and motor carrier proof of financial capability violate federal pre-emption law because they interfere with the rates, routes and services of motor carriers engaged in interstate commerce.

The judge denied the request for a preliminary injunction on the grounds that some of the more than dozen concession requirements are responsive to motor carrier safety. The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit remanded the case back to Judge Snyder, stating that some of the requirements, such as the mandatory use of employee drivers, most likely violate the federal pre-emption statute.

Judge Snyder then issued a preliminary injunction against the employee driver mandate and several other concession requirements, but let stand those that clearly are responsive to motor carrier safety.

The port, in its closing arguments, maintained that the entire concession regime is responsive to motor carrier safety, and also that it is a market participant attempting to protect its investment in trucks and therefore is exempt from federal pre-emption.

ATA argued that the port failed to meet strict requirements to prove market participation and that the port's safety claims are a pretext to mask its real intent, which is to overhaul the existing harbor drayage system.

-- Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at bmongelluzzo@joc.com.