UPDATE: OOIDA’s lawsuit against MN fatigue program moves forward

| 6/26/2009

The state of Minnesota didn’t put up much of a defense for the use of its fatigue enforcement program in its response to a constitutional legal challenge filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

The Association filed the lawsuit May 13 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 Owner-Operator Independent Drivers 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 in April.

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.

The state of Minnesota filed a response to the lawsuit on June 17.

Dan Cohen with The Cullen Law Firm, OOIDA’s legal counsel on the case, said the state’s response raised a few more questions than it answered in staging a defense of the enforcement program.

“We were somewhat surprised to see – and we’re going to have to wait until we talk to state officials and take their testimony to see exactly what they are up to here – but it seems to me that what they’re saying is the checklist is not really used to determine fatigue,” Cohen said.

“Rather what they seem to be saying is that the patrolmen will, in whatever fashion, look at a trucker, talk to a trucker, look at the way he was driving and then determine if there is fatigue. … After they’ve determined fatigue, they use the checklist to document their observations. It’s kind of a topsy-turvy use of the checklist. It’s almost nonsensical that they would have this checklist and not be considering the criteria when making the evaluation.”

Throughout the response, there was no real justification or defense that the fatigue enforcement program is based on any sort of scientific formula, according to Cohen.

Beyond that, one of the prime objectives of OOIDA’s lawsuit is to protect the constitutional rights of truckers.

“If you don’t stop this, you won’t be able to stop anything the police want to do when they pull you over. There have to be standards, and that’s what the constitution is all about. You can’t just pull someone over, look at them, and say you don’t like what they are doing and take away their liberty.

“That’s one of our foremost goals in this case, is to put a stop to this kind of unconstitutional conduct.”

Cohen said he expects the case to move at an “expedited” pace, and an ultimate decision could happen as soon as the end of the year.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor