OOIDA Challenges New Out of Service Criteria

The debate over working hours for over-the-road truckers continues in federal court as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) filed a Motion for an Order to Show Cause before the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The motion asks Judge Donovan W. Frank to order the Minnesota State Patrol and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) to show why they should not be held in contempt of court for violating several portions of a court order barring them from holding drivers out of service.

In 2009, OOIDA and driving member Stephen K. House filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Highway Patrol and the CVSA after state troopers began to disqualify drivers as part of a fatigue enforcement program. According to court records, OOIDA and its member drivers alleged that troopers would stop its drivers and determine that they were ineligible to drive based on a Fatigue Inspection Checklist that would ostensibly show that drivers were too tired to be behind the wheel. Members of state patrol were instructed to consider the presence of a TV, reading material and a cell phone (to name a few) as signs of fatigue, instead of other articulable conclusions as required by law. OOIDA claimed that these stops and subsequent questioning violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.

In its September 21, 2011 Order, the court ruled that the enforcement program “did not properly and adequately limit the inspecting officers’ discretion” and that the stop (and subsequent questioning) of Mr. House violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. It also ruled that the program could continue as long as it met the guidelines issued in its final order. Specifically, troopers and CVIs could observe drivers for signs of impairment (for fatigue), but they were not allowed to conduct a fatigue inspection without a reasonable articulable suspicion that the driver may be impaired.

The court further ruled that drivers could no longer be ordered out of service without probable cause and troopers could no longer use a Fatigue Inspection Checklist to record their findings. However, OOIDA claims that the CVSA violated the court’s order when it established its new out of service criteria, which read in pertinent part:

When so fatigued that the driver of a commercial vehicle should not continue the trip based on reasonable articulable suspicion (392.3). Declare the driver out-of-service until no longer fatigued.

OOIDA claims that the new criteria confuse the reasonable articulable suspicion standard with probable cause, and allow state troopers to place a driver out of service merely upon a whim (articulable suspicion), instead of the far more precise standard of probable cause. Moreover, the criteria were developed with full knowledge of the court’s directives and in spite of requests by OOIDA members for CVSA to revise its standard.

In speaking to Landline Magazine, OOIDA president Jim Johnston explained that the new standard was “troubling and unconstitutional on its face” and that constitutional law mandates that an arrest without a warrant (which would be synonymous with putting a driver out of service) requires probable cause, not a reasonable articulable suspicion.

The motion is scheduled to be heard on September 21, 2012, exactly one year after the previous order was issued.

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