Ninth Circuit overturns employee-driver requirement at Port of L.A.

| 9/30/2011

Since the case was first filed in 2007, keeping track of the legal tussle between the American Trucking Associations and the Port of Los Angeles has required a scorecard and an occasional Dramamine. On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals filed an opinion that gave both ATA and independent port truckers a major moment.

The skirmish has been mired in controversial provisions in the port’s ambitious Clean Truck Program. The port was convinced its plan is best accomplished if the independent truckers at the ports become employees. Among other provisions, ATA objected to the plan, which would have motor carriers picking up the bill for new trucks and making independent contractors employees and therefore potential Teamster members.

When first argued a year ago in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, ATA challenged the port’s requirement that drayage operators hire only truck drivers who are company drivers.

The first decision was not favorable to ATA’s case. Instead, the court backed a “concessionaires” program that essentially would have banned owner-operators. The ruling had the potential to squeeze owner-operators out of every port in the nation.

In October of last year, ATA won an injunction to halt the ban and appealed the independent contractor issue to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, stating that the lower court misinterpreted several sections of federal law.

The port – backed by the Teamsters, environmentalists, and the City of L.A. – contended that those independent contractors can ill afford newer trucks, as required by the program. The plan views trucking companies as more capable of keeping drivers in newer trucks.

Supporters also believed the motor carriers would be more accountable, have better maintenance practices, and be more likely to be able to carry on the program in the future.

OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz said that OOIDA found this to be an “unfounded and baseless” concept of owner-operators.

In January, OOIDA submitted an amicus, or friend of the court brief, in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of ATA’s position and on behalf of owner-operators. 

In the OOIDA brief, the Association stated that the District Court relied upon “incorrect and denigrating assumptions about owner-operator drivers that were unsupported by the trial record.” The brief points out that the port’s assumptions regarding owner-operators’ safe maintenance of their equipment was not supported by the evidence.

On Monday, Sept. 26, a California appeals court filed its opinion, handing out good news for owner-operators. While the appeals court upheld the denial of some of ATA’s challenges, it overturned the employee driver requirement.

“The employee driver requirement was flawed. Monday’s ruling is good news for owner-operators who work at the Port of L.A. and other ports as well,” said Rajkovacz.

Staff Writer Charlie Morasch contributed to this article.