DAY FOUR: OOIDA v. Minnesota State Patrol

| 9/17/2010

Major Ken Urquhart was back on the witness stand on Thursday, Sept. 16, a continuation from Wednesday’s proceedings at the U.S. District Court in St. Paul. Urquhart was a captain with the Minnesota State Patrol and commander of the commercial enforcement section when OOIDA and member plaintiff Stephen K. House filed a legal challenge of the of the state patrol’s fatigue enforcement program.

In the cross-examination of Urquhart by OOIDA counsel Paul Cullen Sr., the line of questioning sought further details on a fatigue out-of-service order, specifically, the penalty.

Cullen explained the penalty for being put out-of-service for fatigue is 10 hours off. In questions to Urquhart, Cullen explored whether that 10 hours was to sleep, which would be a “remedial penalty,” or simply punishment, which would be “punitive.”

Cullen Sr. made the point to the court that if a driver was put out-of-service for being fatigued, it only made sense that the penalty be a remedy to that, not punishment.

Urquhart eventually said that the answer was “punitive,” or a punishment.

The second witness on Thursday was Denise Nichols, a longtime inspector with the Minnesota State Patrol. Her testimony was straightforward and decisive – something court spectators saw as a clear contrast from the hours of testimony in which all of the other state patrol witnesses repeatedly said they were unable to recall specifics or simply did not know answers.

During cross-examination by OOIDA counsel Paul Cullen Jr., Nichols told the court that she had, in her career, conducted 2,000 to 2,500 driver inspections. In none of those inspections had she ever placed a driver out-of-service for fatigue.

Nichols told the court she had spent 17 years with the state patrol’s commercial vehicle section. The last seven years as its education officer. She told the court that Urquhart wanted to develop the fatigue impaired commercial driver program and that she was tasked with the training.

Nichols testified that she did not have a “definition” for fatigue and believed it is different for everyone. Nichols’ training did not include instructing officers/inspectors on privacy issues, or what questions they might or might not ask of truckers. She did not provide inspectors with a “formula” for determining fatigue and said she trained each officer to “make their own decision.”

Nichols said her training was “to raise awareness” and was not a course that earned a grade or even a pass or fail determination. Nichols is no longer with the state patrol and told the court she is now employed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

U.S. District Judge Donovan W. Frank called a recess shortly before noon on Thursday. The trial is scheduled to resume Monday, Sept. 20. OOIDA will call at least one more witness, including another named defendant, Doug Thooft. He is a lieutenant in the state patrol and oversees the commercial enforcement’s section in the southeastern part of the state.

The trial is expected to conclude in the middle of next week after oral arguments are heard.

– By Land Line staff

Editor’s note: Land Line Magazine will provide daily updates throughout the course of the trial. Updates will also air nightly on Land Line Now on Sirius 147, XM 171.