DAY ONE: OOIDA v. Minnesota State Patrol

| 9/14/2010

The opening day of the OOIDA v. Minnesota State Patrol trial wasted little time in delving deeply into the challenge of the agency’s alleged arbitrary fatigue enforcement program.

After a bit of housekeeping in the way of preliminary instructions, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s legal counsel set the stage in opening arguments.

OOIDA’s legal counsel, Paul Cullen Sr. of The Cullen Law Firm, teed up the Association’s case by telling the court that the fatigue enforcement program is a clear sign that the Minnesota State Patrol’s regulatory compass was broken.

He was countered in opening arguments delivered by Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Marsha Devine. She said that the state patrol is merely doing the best job it can to keep the highways safe.

OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston, who was the first witness to testify in the trial, was on the stand for approximately two hours.

Johnston testified that OOIDA’s suit is “not about allowing fatigued drivers to continue operating on our highways. In fact, keeping fatigued and unsafe drivers off the road has been high on OOIDA’s agenda for many years.”

For excerpts from Johnston’s testimony, click here.

The Association’s second witness in the trial was OOIDA Member Stephen K. House. Between questioning by OOIDA legal counsel and cross-examination by the state, House’s testimony lasted approximately 90 minutes.

House recounted for the court the May 10, 2008, incident in which he was placed out of service.

House was put out of service at the Red River Weigh Station, after it was decided he was fatigued after being questioned by civilian Law Compliance Representatives Christopher Norton and James Ullmer.

He testified that the pair asked him about his neck size and how many times he used the restroom at night, whether he had a television or computer in his cab, and if he had any Playboy magazines in his cab. He said both Norton and Ullmer used a checklist. After the inspection, the OOS order was issued.

The lawsuit was filed on May 13, 2009, with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on behalf of truck drivers placed out of service after members of the Minnesota State Patrol arrived at the conclusion the drivers were “fatigued.”

According to the lawsuit, members of the Minnesota State Patrol were instructed to consider the presence of a TV, reading material, a cell phone – to name a few – as signs of fatigue.

The Association filed suit against Minnesota State Patrol; officers Mark Dunaski, Ken Urquhart, Doug Throoft; and law compliance representatives Norton and Ullmer – all in their individual official capacities.

Dunaski is the state patrol’s chief patrol officer. Urquhart is a captain in the MSP and was the designated operational commander of the commercial vehicle enforcement section. Thooft is a lieutenant in the MSP and oversees the commercial enforcement’s section in the southeastern part of the state. He was present at the weigh station that day, but had no direct involvement with House.

Norton and Ullmer, who did have direct involvement with House, are civilians who work for the section. They are not peace officers, but are “law compliance representatives.”

The trial was scheduled to resume on Tuesday, Sept. 14, with OOIDA’s expert witness on fatigue scheduled to testify.

Dr. Philip Westbrook is a Stanford-educated sleep expert who led the sleep disorder centers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

He is clinical professor of Medicine at UCLA and has been actively involved in the professional organizations associated with sleep disorders. He served as president of the American Sleep Disorder Association.

– 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.