By Sandi Soendker
Minnesota’s fatigue inspection scheme is currently under scrutiny in federal court in St. Paul. The first hearing took place June 30 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, where OOIDA and member plaintiff Stephen K. House of Springdale, WA, pursued their case against members of the Minnesota State Patrol.
The hearing kicked off a case that involves alleged unauthorized and unlawful out-of-service orders for driver fatigue.
Both sides have moved for summary judgment and the hearing was held on those motions.
U.S. District Judge Donovan W. Frank said he intended to rule on the requests for summary judgment in early August.
The court also has ordered the parties to attend a settlement conference to explore the possibilities of settling the case after the judge issues an opinion. The case is still on the court’s trial calendar for September, at which time any claims not resolved would be tried.
“The court was very well prepared. Judge Frank had read all of the briefs – and it was a very large file,” said OOIDA’s attorney, Paul Cullen Sr. “He knew the case inside and out.”
The Association filed the first lawsuit May 13, 2009, with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on behalf of truck drivers placed out of service after members of the Minnesota State Patrol arbitrarily decided the drivers were “fatigued.”
The complaint was lodged against senior officers in the Minnesota State Patrol, including Col. Mark Dunaski and Capt. Ken Urquhart, as well as against individual troopers who have issued actual out-of-service orders in the field.
Urquhart is commander of the Commercial Vehicle Section and, according to Cullen, has been “an outspoken promoter of this misguided campaign against imagined fatigue.” Members of the Minnesota State Patrol were instructed to consider the presence of a TV, reading material and a cell phone – to name a few – as signs of fatigue.
OOIDA’s investigations revealed that the enforcement program not only lacked medical or scientific justification, but also infringed on truckers’ constitutional rights.
The lawsuit charges that drivers were denied their rights to a hearing on the OOS orders and that the regulation under which the orders were issued fails both to define fatigue and to establish a standard under which a driver would know when to stop driving.
The state’s enforcement procedures – which led to arbitrary determinations of driver fatigue – are challenged in the lawsuit on constitutional grounds; the lack of due process; and warrantless search and seizure.
Research pertaining to that lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s arbitrary enforcement of fatigue revealed that the state had not adopted the federal regulations and that it enacted no regulations of its own. Therefore, no regulations existed to enforce governing interstate truckers.
That discovery led to the Association’s second lawsuit, filed Nov. 20, 2009, with the Minnesota District Court for the Fourth Judicial District. OOIDA and several member plaintiffs filed against the state of Minnesota, the head of Minnesota Department of Public Safety and named members of the Minnesota State Patrol.
In that case, OOIDA claims that because the state had not adopted federal regulations and enacted no regulations of its own, it had no authority to issue citations to drivers and must return fines and reverse the damage to drivers’ records. The second lawsuit recently was dismissed by the trial court. OOIDA plans to appeal.
Cullen said he regarded the dismissal of this separate case as a “minor speed bump along the road” and that it should not have any serious impact on OOIDA’s fatigue litigation. LL
Senior Editor Jami Jones
contributed to this article.