USDOT Says it Does Not Have a Duty to Enforce Law Protecting Truckers
Washington D.C. – The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) is in U.S. District Court arguing it does not have a duty, but rather “absolute discretion,” whether to investigate, arrest or prosecute individuals suspected of violating federal laws.
The USDOT is locked in a legal battle with the Small Business in Transportation Coalition (SBTC) after the SBTC filed suit last month against Secretary Elaine Chao.
The SBTC argues that by allowing protests to be staged on interstates and highways, Sec. Chao is failing to enforce federal laws, including the Hobbs Act.
Specifically, 18 U.S. Code § 1951, also known as the Hobbs Act, 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.
Further, the SBTC asserts Sec. Chao has a “clear duty to act” pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 301 which states: “The Secretary of Transportation shall – (1) under the direction of the President, exercise leadership in transportation matters, including those matters affecting national defense and those matters involving national or regional emergencies.”
At issue is whether or not the civil unrest spilling out onto America’s interstates and roadways actually rises to the level of a national or regional emergency, and if the USDOT Secretary has a duty to act to prevent such behavior.
“Here, arguably a national emergency is created when commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers are attacked by protesters around the country,” the SBTC asserts in court documents filed in the case this week. “Secretary Elaine Chao has a clear duty to act to protect CMV drivers who are put in danger while doing their job.”
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 unrest.
USDOT Says It Has “Absolute Discretion”
In response to the SBTC’s motion, the USDOT argues the Court does not have jurisdiction in the matter, and even if it did, the Executive Branch cannot be compelled to undertake such actions by either the Judicial Branch or the SBTC.
“It is established that the Executive Branch has absolute discretion in deciding whether to investigate claims for possible criminal or civil prosecution, and such decisions generally are not subject to judicial review,” the USDOT asserted in court documents this week. “Indeed, there is overwhelming authority in this and other circuits that a petitioner (SBTC) cannot compel a criminal or civil investigation by any law enforcement agency by means of a writ of mandamus, and Plaintiff cites not a single case to the contrary.”
USDOT Argues FMCSA Has Already Provided an HOS Solution
As it relates to HOS rules, the USDOT again argues a suspension is at the discretion of the Secretary.
“A decision on whether to suspend the HOS regulation is a policy decision within the Secretary’s discretion for which mandamus relief is unwarranted,” the USDOT said.
Further, the USDOT asserts there is no cause to suspend HOS rules because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has already provided an acceptable remedy in cases when a trucker is disrupted or imperiled by a protest or rioting.
In support of this, the USDOT pointed to an announcement the Agency made last month which encouraged truckers who encounter highway protests and threats of violence to use the “emergency conditions exception” in the HOS regulations.
“After seeing incidents of threats against truckers, FMCSA wants drivers to know that they may use the emergency conditions exception in § 395.1(b) to complete a trip without violating the HOS regulations if the trip was delayed due to a civil disturbance causing a driver to reasonably fear for their physical safety,” an FMCSA statement said.
Many truckers from across the nation expressed outrage over the FMCSA’s decision not to take further action in furtherance of protecting CMV drivers.
Click HERE to read some of the thousands of responses TNN received.
The judge has not yet issued a ruling in the case.
TransportationNation.com will continue to follow new developments.
UPDATE! NEW DEVELOPMENTS…