April 16, 2013
Starting in 2008, one of the busiest ports in the United States, the Port of Los Angeles (POLA), entered into “concession agreements” with motor carriers doing business at the port. POLA enforced the agreements through a system of tariffs levied against noncompliant carriers and remedial provisions that empowered it to revoke noncompliant carriers’ access to the port. The American Trucking Association (ATA) sued POLA, arguing that the agreements were barred under the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA) and the Supreme Court’s decision in Castle v. Hayes Freight Lines, Inc. The Central District of California and Ninth Circuit found that multiple provisions of the concession agreements were exempted from the FAAAA’s preemption clause under the market-participant doctrine and held that Castle did not bar suspension of carriers’ port access because of the FAAAA’s express safety exemption. In resolving the questions presented, the Supreme Court will determine the scope of the market-participant exemption to FAAAA preemption and whether Castle bars POLA from enforcing its concession agreements through revocation or suspension of port access. The case directly affects local and state governments’ power to regulate and contract under the FAAAA and similar Congressional legislation and has broad regulatory implications for motor carriers and other regulated actors in interstate commerce.
Title 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1), originally enacted as a provision of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994, provides that “a State [or] political subdivision . . . may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier ... with respect to the transportation of property.” It contains an exception providing that the express preemption clause “shall not restrict the safety regulatory authority of a State with respect to motor vehicles.” Id. § 14501(c)(2)(A). The questions presented are:
- Whether an unexpressed “market participant” exception exists in Section 14501(c)(1) and permits a municipal governmental entity to take action that conflicts with the express preemption clause, occurs in a market in which the municipal entity does not participate, and is unconnected with any interest in the efficient procurement of services.
- Whether permitting a municipal governmental entity to bar federally licensed motor carriers from access to a port operates as a partial suspension of the motor carriers’ federal registration, in violation of Castle v. Hayes Freight Lines, Inc., 348 U.S. 61 (1954).
Does federal law prevent enforcement of certain aspects of motor carrier-related contracts used by the Port of Los Angeles?