By Jami Jones
More than six years’ worth of citations and out-of-service orders issued to truckers by the Minnesota State Patrol aren’t worth the paper they were written on, according to a lawsuit filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
OOIDA claims that’s because the state had no authority to enforce federal regulations.
The Association and five members filed a lawsuit seeking refunds of fines and penalties associated with citations involving motor carrier safety regulations, handed down by the Minnesota State Patrol. The lawsuit, seeking class-action status, was filed Nov. 20, 2009, with the Minnesota District Court for the 4th Judicial District.
In documents obtained by OOIDA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration determined through a review of Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program that the federal regulations governing truckers and the trucking industry were not adopted into Minnesota state law. The agency released the MCSAP report in April 2008.
“In essence because the federal regulations were not adopted by the state of Minnesota, there were no motor carrier safety regulations on the books that officers with the Minnesota State Patrol were authorized to enforce,” said OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston.
The state of Minnesota did finally adopt the federal regs Aug. 1, 2009.
However, citations and out-of-service orders issued before Aug. 1, 2009, denied truckers and motor carriers alike their right to due process, the lawsuit claims.
“They had no authority to issue tickets or put people out of service. It’s high time to give back what is owed and reverse the damage to drivers’ records,” Johnston said.
If the lawsuit is successful, the statute of limitations would require that all the fines imposed for six years before the suit be returned.
In addition to the state of Minnesota, OOIDA’s complaint names four officials as defendants both individually and in their official capacities: Michael Campion, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety; Mark Dunaski, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol; Ken Urquhart, commander of the Commercial Vehicle Division of the Minnesota State Patrol; and Tom Hanson, Minnesota Department of Management and Budget.
This is the second lawsuit filed by the Association against the state of Minnesota.
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 and in some cases fined after members of the Minnesota State Patrol arbitrarily arrived at the conclusion the drivers were “fatigued.”
The discovery of a seemingly random checklist of items that supposedly indicated fatigue did more than just raise an eyebrow at the Association. The list included the presence of a TV, reading material, a cell phone – to name a few – as signs of fatigue.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. The Association immediately began to dig in and found out that the enforcement program not only lacked medical or scientific justification, but also infringed on truckers’ civil and constitutional rights.
The Association’s findings were highlighted in an in-depth investigation by Land Line Now Host Mark Reddig, which aired on OOIDA’s Sirius XM radio show in April 2009.
The lawsuit charges that drivers were denied their rights to a hearing on the out-of-service 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 lead 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 the first lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s arbitrary enforcement of fatigue turned up an April 2008 MCSAP report. That report revealed that the state had not adopted the federal regulations – prohibiting them from enforcing any federal regulations governing truckers, Johnston said.
That discovery immediately led to the Association’s second lawsuit.
A copy of both lawsuits can be found on OOIDA’s Web site in the Media Center section. LL