Judge Rules USDOT Does NOT Have a Duty to Enforce Federal Law Protecting Truckers
Washington D.C. – A newly issued ruling by a United States District Court judge is bad news for a trucking group hoping to require the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to enforce federal laws.
The Small Business in Transportation Coalition (SBTC) filed suit last month in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the USDOT and Secretary Elaine Chao.
The 15,000-member group alleged that by allowing protests to be staged on interstates and highways, Sec. Chao is failing to enforce federal laws.
Specifically, the SBTC cited 18 U.S. Code § 1951, also known as the Hobbs Act, which makes it a crime punishable by up to 20 years in jail to obstruct, delay or affect commerce by robbery or extortion or threaten physical violence to any person engaged in interstate commerce.
Then last week, the SBTC filed an emergency motion, called a writ of mandamus, asking the Court to order Sec. Chao to enforce the Hobbs Act against those who “harass, attack and injure CMV drivers,” as well as to suspend the hours of service (HOS) rules for all CMV drivers during this time of “national emergency.”
At the heart of the legal dispute is whether or not the civil unrest imperiling truckers on America’s roadways rises to the level of a national or regional emergency, and if the USDOT Secretary has a “clear duty to act” to prevent such behavior.
In response to the SBTC’s emergency filing, the USDOT argued it has “absolute discretion” whether to investigate, arrest or prosecute any individuals suspected of violating federal laws.
Click HERE to read what else the USDOT said.
On Friday, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly clearly sided with the USDOT.
In a five-page denial of the SBTC’s writ of mandamus, Judge Kollar-Kotelly said, “Plaintiff cites no authority that would require the [USDOT] Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate, arrest, or prosecute any persons in these circumstances. And, the decision of whether or not to prosecute is a discretionary decision left to the Executive Branch.”
Further, the Judge explained that mandamus relief could only be granted in “extraordinary circumstances” meeting a three-tiered legal test, which is:
1) the plaintiff has a clear right to relief,
2) the defendant has a clear duty to act, and
3) there is no other adequate remedy available to plaintiff.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly found that the SBTC’s arguments failed to meet the threshold on any of the three conditions.
For example, she said truckers facing danger due to protests and rioting already have remedies available to them.
As it relates to HOS, Judge Kollar-Kotelly ruled Sec. Chao has already “exercised her discretion” to provide relief.
She pointed to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) recent announcement advising that CMV drivers who encounter highway protests could use the “emergency conditions exception” in the HOS regulations.
“Moreover, in the event that a driver is endangered due to civil protests, that driver has the alternative remedy of calling on the applicable law enforcement agency for protection in that instance,” Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote in her decision.
Following the ruling, SBTC president James Lamb told Transportation Nation Network (TNN) that despite the legal set back on the emergency motion, the group will continue litigating the broader case.
Lamb also expressed confidence the group is winning in the court of public opinion.
“The SBTC would like to point out that although we did not prevail in this legal challenge, we have awakened many in the industry to the absolute lack of interest on the part of USDOT bureaucrats to act affirmatively to protect truckers from bodily harm,” he said. “We therefore contend today was a public relations victory that brought the attention that was due to the plight of the American truck driver in the midst of COVID-19 and social unrest.”
Further, Lamb said his hope is that Sec. Chao would “choose to act to stop what we believe will be the inevitable violence and bloodshed that is typical during these incidents.”
“We will continue to proudly proclaim truckers lives matter,” he declared.
The USDOT does not comment about ongoing litigation.
TransportationNation.com will continue to follow this legal battle.