The Verdict Is In: The L.A. Port Trucking Plan Is Legal

On April 20, 2010, the day that the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blew up, my colleague Melissa Lin Perrella and I started trial in the American Trucking Association v. Port of Los Angeles case in federal district court in Los Angeles before Judge Christina Snyder.  Plaintiff ATA challenged the trucking concession agreement that the Port of Los Angeles had enacted.  I blogged about the trial issues here.  The trial lasted eight court days. 

Yesterday, August 26, 2010, the district court rendered its decision in favor of the Port of Los Angeles and the intervenor-defendants:  NRDC, Sierra Club and the Coalition for Clean Air.  Judge Snyder denied ATA’s claims that key provisions of the concession agreement were preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAA) and unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.  

At trial, ATA challenged five provisions within the concession agreement (1) employee hiring (2) parking and routing (3) maintenance (4) placards (5) financial capability.  While Judge Snyder held that some of these provisions were preempted by the FAAA, which precludes state and local governments from regulating the “price, route, or service” of motor carriers, she ultimately found that all of the provisions were saved from preemption under the “market participant exception.”  Under that exception, state and local governments are permitted to take otherwise preempted actions so long as they are “proprietary” in nature.  

As ATA has found out, alleging something and proving it in court are different things.  In this case, Judge Snyder considered the evidence and arguments presented at trial and found that the port adopted the concession agreement as a “business necessity.”  The court found that the port competes with other ports and that it needs efficient trucking operations that are safe, secure and green.  The court also found that port trucking operations had become extremely polluting, inefficient, and unsafe, and threatened the commercial viability of the port.  Because the port and intervenors were able to demonstrate that the challenged provisions within the concession agreement were adopted to address these commercial interests, the court held that the agreement was proprietary in nature, and thus not preempted by the FAAA.  Lastly, the court held that ATA had failed to provide sufficient evidence that the concession agreement placed an undue burden on interstate commerce pursuant to the dormant Commerce Clause. 

In short, ATA had its chance to prove its claims in court, and failed.  You can read Judge Snyder’s decision here.  ATA is certain to appeal but will have an uphill battle given the detailed and thorough findings of fact in the decision – findings that cannot be disregarded by the appellate courts.  

It was a good day for clean air in Los Angeles.