News
Lawsuit Update
‘Shot across the bow’
U.S. District judge urges 'all parties' to settle fatigue enforcement issues

By Sandi Soendker, editor-in-chief

A federal judge in St. Paul is encouraging OOIDA, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the Minnesota State Patrol and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to “engage in constructive dialogue” in order to nail down national driver fatigue enforcement standards.

A year ago, U.S. District Judge Donovan W. Frank ruled in OOIDA’s favor in the Association’s case against the Minnesota State Patrol’s fatigue enforcement practices, ordering a probable cause standard for putting a driver out of service.

In April 2012, CVSA – a law enforcement group that sets policy – implemented new out-of-service criteria, but ignored the court’s order for probable cause. The CVSA language stated that a driver can be put out of service if the inspector has “reasonable articulable suspicion” – which is less evidence than the probable cause.

The out-of-service criteria based on the lower legal threshold prompted OOIDA to file a motion in June asking the U.S. District Court to find the CVSA, as well as the state patrol, in contempt as states are uniformly obligated to follow CVSA adopted criteria.

The hearing was held on Sept. 21, 2012, resulting in a rapid exchange of letters between the Minnesota State Patrol and CVSA. The patrol sprang into action, urging CVSA to abandon its revised fatigue out-of-service criteria. On Sept. 27, CVSA filed a letter with the court that the executive committee had voted to remove the language implemented April 1.

On Oct. 15, Judge Frank denied OOIDA’s motion, finding that the Minnesota State Patrol was not in contempt and that the patrol and CVSA did not act together to violate the order.

However, Frank’s discontent with CVSA’s handling of a fatigue criteria that ran counter to his 2011 ruling is evident in his ruling.

“It is difficult for the court to understand why the CVSA, the central mission of which is to achieve uniform national safety standards, rejected OOIDA’s proposal in September 2011 to adopt fatigue standards congruent with those litigated by the MSP,” Frank wrote.

He commented that in the court’s view, deleting the reasonable suspicion standard from the April 1 out-of-service criteria is “a step backward because it eliminates the specificity in fatigue standards necessary to prevent potential constitutional violations. The decision of the CVSA is destined to create more litigation while discouraging uniform national safety standards.”

OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston does not see the court’s ruling as a setback, but simply as a missed opportunity to move forward with the establishment of a reasonable standard. Even with standards like probable cause, Johnston says there need to be uniform criteria for determining fatigue.

“Our motion was a shot across the bow,” said Johnston. “We were hoping this case would advance the whole issue under the supervision of the court. That’s not likely now, but we remain hopeful that we can work with CVSA toward a reasonable standard.” LL

Managing Editor Jami Jones contributed to this report.

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