Expert witness from FMCSA excluded from fatigue trial

| 9/10/2010

One of the Minnesota State Patrol’s expert witnesses was excluded from the upcoming civil trial in which the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and member Stephen K. House will challenge the arbitrary practices of the patrol’s fatigue enforcement program.

On Monday, Sept. 13, the case goes to trial before U.S. District Judge Donovan W. Frank in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota in St. Paul.

In a pre-trial conference early last week, it was debated whether the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would be allowed to come forth with a representative as an “expert” witness for the defense in private litigation. The expert witness that the Minnesota State Patrol planned to introduce was William Quade, Associate Administrator for Enforcement and Program Delivery, from the FMCSA’s office in Washington, DC.

FMCSA, although clearly an important partner with the State of Minnesota – and all states – in commercial enforcement, did not officially assert itself as a stakeholder until late in the game.

According to the transcript of the pre-trial conference, in an Aug. 30 letter to Marsha Devine, MSP’s counsel, FMSCA confirmed that the department has an interest in the decision “with respect to the agency’s mission of insuring commercial motor carrier safety, particularly in the area of driver fatigue.”

Deadlines provided by pre-trial order indicated expert witnesses should have been designated almost a year ago.

U.S. District Judge Frank, stating that “the feds thumbed their nose until the eve of the trial,” ruled Aug. 31 in the pre-trial conference that any witness from the FMCSA is excluded.

“The indifference this agency has shown until the eve of this trial doesn’t serve the public’s interest and safety,” said Judge Frank. “It is unfortunate they didn’t take an interest in the case sooner.”

OOIDA and member plaintiff House allege denial of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. One count alleges a Fourth Amendment warrantless search and seizure claim.

– By Sandi Soendker, managing editor