Lawsuit against L.A., Long Beach port truck plan is reversed

| 3/24/2009

A panel of judges reversed one district court judge’s findings in the federal lawsuit against certain portions of the “Clean Trucks Program,” sending the suit back to that judge.

It doesn’t appear, however, that the reversal will necessarily end the program or the concessionaire system that motor carriers are required to be licensed through.

The twin ports approved similar clean truck programs aimed at cutting emissions from the estimated 16,000 older trucks that frequent the ports daily. In addition to requirements phasing out older trucks, the plans require trucks entering the ports to be licensed concessionaires meeting a host of conditions.

The ATA sued for an injunction in July 2008, saying the ports’ Concession Agreements violated federal statutes that protect interstate commerce.

In fall 2008, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder ruled against the injunction, saying the ports’ public safety needs outweighed concerns from trucking.

Last week, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Snyder – strongly suggesting that the employee-mandates of the Clean Trucks Program at the Port of Los Angeles are illegal.

According to the opinion filed by Circuit Judges Robert Beezer, Ferdinand Fernandez and Richard Paez, Snyder rejected the ATA’s claim incorrectly.

“The district court concluded that the agreements likely fell within a statutory exception preserving the ‘safety regulatory authority of a State with respect to motor vehicles.’ It also concluded that ATA failed to demonstrate irreparable harm absent an injunction and that the balance of hardships and public interest weighed against imposing an injunction. We reverse and remand.”

Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA regulatory affairs specialist, said many mainstream media outlets have reported the news as a large-scale victory for ATA, when in reality neither the port nor ATA got what they wanted.

The scope of the decision handed down by the 9th Circuit leaves in doubt whether Judge Snyder will issue a narrowly crafted injunction against certain aspects of the Concession Agreements, thus leaving them mostly intact.

“They didn’t get the victory they’ve been communicating,” Rajkovacz said. “Unless the lower court goes where it didn’t go before and decides to throw the baby out with the bathwater and kill the entire concessions plan, which it hasn’t shown a desire to do, it’s all still headed to trial. The Concession Agreements are still integral to funding the replacement trucks that many motor carriers are using to comply with the environmental requirements.

The issue, Rajkovacz said, appears to be far from over.

“The court did not go so far as to say the entire concessions plan is dead,” Rajkovacz said. “The Concession Agreements contain severability clauses that keep them in force even if certain aspects of them are deemed illegal.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer