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U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Drivers’ Appeal Against FMCSA

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of six truck drivers in a class action suit against the U.S. Department of Transportation and its Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) regarding what information is included in pre-employment reports. The appeal follows a ruling in FMCSA’s favor by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in October of 2016.

Federal law requires the Secretary of Transportation to provide employers access to “1) Commercial motor vehicle accident reports; 2) Inspection reports that contain no driver-related safety violations; 3) Serious driver-related safety violation inspection reports” from a FMCSA database to aid them in hiring drivers. The FMCSA developed a Pre-Employment Screening Program (“PSP”) that would provide these employers with the most recent five years’ crash data, three years’ inspection information, and “serious safety violations for an individual driver.” Employers would need to pay a $10 fee to access the PSP, and each driver was asked to sign a consent form assenting to the inclusion of their information in the PSP (as required by federal law).

The drivers brought a class action lawsuit against FMCSA and the Department of Transportation when the PSP reports contained additional, non-serious information regarding the driver-employees’ history, including excessive weight violations, speeding in the 6-10 mph range, violation of certain hours rules, incorrect logs and unlawful parking. The drivers argued that the statute, quoted above, placed a “ceiling” on what information could be made available, and, because the PSP reports included non-serious information (not expressly listed in the statute), the FMCSA violated federal law by disclosing too much.

The district court and First Circuit did not agree. They said that the statute could just as easily be read as setting a “floor,” by listing three categories of minimum disclosures, and found the statute to be ambiguous. Using the legal doctrine of Chevron deference, they determined that the FMCSA’s interpretation of the ambiguous statute was reasonable and would not be second- guessed by the courts.

In the recent ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court opted to deny the drivers’ request to appeal the First Circuit’s decision. Therefore, as it now stands, drivers must be aware that, when they sign a consent form to have their information included in PSP reports, these reports can include non-serious driver-related safety violations.

If you have any questions regarding the FMCSA ruling, please contact Steve Setliff at (804) 377-1261.