Marten Law on American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles

In this article, Jessica Ferrell of Marten Law PLLC examines the Supreme Court's decision in Am. Trucking Ass'ns v. City of Los Angeles. Along with holding that the Federal Aviation Admin. Authorization Act preempts provisions of the Port of Los Angeles' Clean Truck Program, the opinion limits the ability of local & state government to take enforcement action to curtail a variety of practices in the trucking industry that contribute to pollution.


For the second time this term, on June 13, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the scope of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA or Act), which largely deregulated trucking. In American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles [enhanced version available to subscribers], the Court held that the Act preempted provisions of the Port of Los Angeles' Clean Truck Program (CTP), which imposed civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance with truck placarding and parking restrictions in the Port.

While factually narrow, the opinion has broader implications. It limits the ability of local and state government, including ports, to take enforcement action to curtail a variety of practices in the trucking industry that contribute to pollution.

Background and Procedural History

The Port of Los Angeles (Port) is one of the nation's largest ports in terms of cargo value and container volume. It handles over $240 billion in cargo, and causes water, air, noise and light issues attendant to most ports. Over two million people live near it. State and federal regulators, as well as groups comprised of physicians, scientists, public health advocates, and environmentalists, have attributed health problems to the Port ranging from increased incidence of asthma and higher cancer risks. Some attribute a majority of the Port-generated pollution to trucking. Accordingly, for over 10 years, the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group, challenged Port expansion projects. The litigation resulted in project modifications and delays costing the Port over $80 million in settlement. Partly in response to that litigation, the Port overhauled its business model and, in 2006, adopted a Clean Air Action Plan that included a CTP.

Early on, the CTP banned pre-1989 trucks for short-haul trucks ("drayage" trucks), replacing them with higher efficiency models. By last year, all trucks moving at Port terminal cargo gates met EPA 2007 heavy duty truck emission standards. The Port estimates that, since the CTP's commencement in October 2008, truck emissions have decreased by 80 percent.

Central to the CTP is a "concession agreement" between the Port and drayage companies. The agreement requires companies to, among other things, use certain placards, submit maintenance and parking plans, agree to abide by regulatory conditions, establish company financial capacity, and address employment terms (i.e., eliminating independent trucking owner-operators and requiring drivers to be part of a large trucking company). The CTP included enforcement provisions in order to ensure that all drayage companies entered into concession agreements. The tariff provided that "no Terminal Operation shall permit access in any Terminal in the Port ... to any Drayage Truck unless such Drayage Truck is registered under a Concession [Agreement]." "A violation of that provision—which occurs 'each and every day' a terminal operator provides access to an unregistered truck—is a misdemeanor ... punishable by a fine of up to $500 or a prison sentence of up to six months." Signatory drayage trucking companies would in turn be subject to corrective action requirements, paying Port investigation costs and, in the event of a "Major Default," suspension or revocation of the company's right to service the Port.

Members of the U.S. trucking industry have challenged the CTP since its inception, arguing that the FAAAA preempts the CTP and that a 1954 Supreme Court decision prohibits it. Lower courts upheld the CTP and, in 2011, those challenges reached the Ninth Circuit. In a panel decision authored by the late Judge Betty Fletcher, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court, holding that the CTP was not preempted by the FAAA, except for its employee-driver provisions.

    Marten Law Group attorney Jessica Ferrell focuses her practice on environmental and natural resource litigation. Jessica represents clients on a broad range of environmental matters in litigation arising under state and federal environmental laws. She has special expertise in endangered species and marine resource issues.

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