U.S. Supreme Court rejects L.A. port's concession program

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 6/13/2013

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a major component of the Port of Los Angeles’ Clean Truck Program.

In a 19-page ruling released Thursday, June 13, the high court unanimously stated the port’s concession program did fall under the scope of a congressional pre-emption that prohibits states and local government bodies from regulating motor carriers.

The court case has been watched closely by trucking companies and port cities throughout the U.S. As litigants in the suit locked horns during the last four years, several major ports including Seattle and the Port Authority of New Jersey have considered or begun their own environmental programs with trucking provisions.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach each approved Clean Truck Programs in 2008. The programs banned pre-1989 trucks from entering their ports in 2009. By January 2010, trucks with 1993 model year engines and older were banned. Since 2012, only trucks meeting 2007 model year diesel engine emissions standards have been allowed onto the ports.

The Port of Los Angeles’ program included specific bans of drivers who weren’t company employees, and included expensive taxi-style “concessionaire” fees, prompting a July 2008 lawsuit by the American Trucking Associations to overturn several portions of the program.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed as an intervener in the lawsuit.

Before making its way before the Supreme Court, the suit bounced between U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that the port can require trucking companies to submit off-site parking plans and display placards.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the opinion, concluding the concession agreements were “classic regulatory authority,” falling under a pre-emption provision enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act.

The FAAAA protection prohibits enforcement of state or local laws and regulations “having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier.”

ATA President and CEO Bill Graves hailed the ruling, according to an ATA news release.

“We are gratified that, at the conclusion of many years of litigation, the highest court in the land unanimously agreed with ATA on these rules,” Graves stated.

“Our position has always been that the port’s attempt to regulate drayage operators – in ways that had nothing to do with its efforts to improve air quality at the port – was inconsistent with Congress’ command that the trucking industry be shaped by market forces, rather than an incompatible patchwork of state and local regulations.

“The decision is sure to send a signal to any other cities who may have been considering similar programs, which would impermissibly regulate the port trucking industry,” Graves said.

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