Is Cal OSHA preempted from exercising its jurisdiction to ensure that trucks and trailers subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (FMCSA) are properly restrained while parked at California loading docks?

Yellow Freight (Employer) was cited for a general violation of section 3664(a)(22) which mandates employers post and enforce a safety rule requiring that trucks and trailers be securely blocked or otherwise restrained and their brakes set while the trailers are being loaded and unloaded. Employer’s appeal alleged not only had the safety order not been violated, but also that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (FMCSA) preempted Cal-OSHA jurisdiction. The ALJ agreed with Employer that the safety order had not been violated since Employer utilized a spring brake system but found no federal preemption. Both Employer and the Division requested reconsideration.

The preemption analysis begins with a review of FMSCA. The language of FMSCA makes it clear that Congress did not intend to occupy completely the field of safety regulations for the operation of commercial vehicles but Congress also contemplated the continued application and enforcement of state rules or regulations which might not be inconsistent or incompatible with federal regulations. The Board then determined that the Cal OSHA regulation requiring trailers to be adequately restrained from movement while parked at California loading docks can be reconciled with the three federal regulations which deal with the installation and use of appropriate truck and trailer braking and restraint systems. Section 3664(a)(22), on its face, appears to impose two requirements: (1) that the truck or trailer be securely blocked or restrained, and (2) that the brakes be set.

Two of the federal regulations issued under the authority of FMCSA specify the type of braking and restraint systems which must be installed on commercial trucks and trailers. Compliance with the emergency brake and parking brake standards is achieved by the installation of "spring brakes." Once spring brakes are installed and adequately maintained, there is no need for chocks or other restraints because the very risks contemplated by the federal standards will have been obviated.

The Board held that when spring brakes are installed and maintained, as had been done by Employer, the additional requirement under section 3664(a)(22) that trailers be securely blocked and restrained was effectively met and thus no violation of the state regulation was established.

The FMCSA does not preempt the Division from inspecting trucks and trailers to determine whether they are properly restrained while parked at California loading docks. The Board further determined that the requirements of section 3664(a)(22) are not just "compatible" with the federal regulation; they are identical to it. Since state involvement is both invited under FMCSA so States can provide valuable assistance in ensuring that commercial motor vehicle operations are conducted safely and healthfully, and compatible state regulations are permissible, FMCSA does not preempt the Division from inspecting trucks and trailers at California loading docks.

The Board was also asked to address the corollary issue of whether the enforcement of section 3664(a)(22) creates an undue burden on interstate commerce. A state regulation, even if it impinges on interstate commerce, will be upheld if (1) the regulation is rationally related to a legitimate state interest, and (2) the burden imposed on interstate commerce by the regulation is outweighed by the state interest. Clearly, California has a legitimate and significant interest in the safety of employees who work in and around commercial motor vehicles. In addition, the interpretation of section 3664(a)(22) the Board adopted does not create a burden on interstate commerce. Vehicles with functional spring brakes need not be chocked; other must be.

In addition, the Board was asked on reconsideration to determine whether Cal OSHA was "legislatively preempted" from jurisdiction over Employer’s place of employment. The California legislature, in section 6303(a) of the Labor Code specified that Cal OSHA did not have jurisdiction over a place of employment where another state or federal agency was vested with health and safety jurisdiction and was actively exercising that jurisdiction. The Board determined that neither the Department of Transportation (DOT) nor the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was actively exercising that jurisdiction and thus Cal OSHA was not legislatively preempted from its enforcement jurisdiction.

There were three non-preemption issues addressed in the Board’s Decision After Reconsideration: (1) was the current appeal barred by the Board’s approval of a stipulation in a previous alleged violation of section 3664(a)(22); (2) should the Board defer to the decision of a grievance panel that chocking was not required; and (3) should sanctions be awarded against the Division for not complying with a discovery request or for the manner in which it obtained a search warrant. The Board determined that under the principles of res judicata, since the issue of chocking was not addressed and resolved in the previous case, but rather the citation was withdrawn, the Board approved stipulation is not a bar to the current appeal. As for the grievance panel ruling, the Board found that it was under no obligation to defer to arbitration decisions dealing with safety issues arising out of collective bargaining agreements, and declined to do so in this case. And finally, as to the sanction issue, the Board found that under the regulations in existence at the time, no further sanctions were appropriate against the Division for its failure to disclose the names and addresses of witnesses. The Board was, however, troubled by the conduct of the Division when it obtained a search warrant for Employer’s place of employment and did not provide the court with a full and accurate account of the circumstances leading up to the request for a warrant. The Board, however, determined it did not have statutory or constitutional authority to issue monetary sanctions against the Division.