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FMCSA data quality lawsuits: Court rules to transfer case against DataQ’s process

mirror truck inspectionBased on jurisdictional grounds, a U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. has transferred a case brought against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and its inability to remove violations from a carrier or driver’s safety record if the violation is dismissed in court or the carrier is found not guilty.

Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Williams wrote the Feb. 28 opinion for the three-judge panel that heard the case — Fred Weaver and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association vs. FMCSA — on Dec. 5.


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Williams wrote that Weaver’s case did not meet the criteria set by prior rulings to be heard by the appeals court, and that Weaver’s case would be brought under the district court currently hearing a similar case brought by OOIDA and four other drivers regarding challenges to violations in FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information Systems.

MCMIS is the agency’s data well, from which its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program’s Safety Measurement System scores are derived.

MCMIS receives much of its data from states, who submit violation information and are responsible for amending such information if a carrier contests a ruling and the violation information changes, such as in the case of a dismissal or not guilty verdict.

Weaver was cited for failing to stop at a weigh station in June 2011, and he subsequently challenged the citation in court in Montana, and the state dismissed the case. However, the Montana Department of Transportation denied Weaver’s request to have the citation removed from FMCSA’s data system.


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FMCSA claims it “is not authorized to direct a state to change or alter MCMIS data,” and a state’s final ruling is made, “FMCSA considers that decision as final resolution of the challenge,” according to the court’s opinion.

The agency, however, has since the lawsuit’s filing taken steps to amend the DataQ’s process, publishing a proposed rule in December that will, when enacted, allow the agency to remove violations from its MCMIS if a citation is dismissed or a carrier is found not guilty, and CSA scores and Pre-Employment Screening Program reports would reflect any changes.

Judge Williams in his court’s opinion said the agency’s letter deferring to Montana’s ruling in Weaver’s case does not constitute an agency rule, regulation or final order, which must be the case for his court to make a ruling.

OOIDA filed its larger suit in the matter in July 2012, saying — similar in nature to Weaver’s suit — that FMCSA fails to keep its information accurate and account for due process in legal proceedings.

David P. Wisla
David P. Wisla

Since Mr. Weaver and the OOIDA agreed with Judge Williams, that the case was filed with the D.C. Appeals court in the event that another such suit which was filed last July by the OOIDA and three other drivers, now being heard in the D.C. District Court, may not have been heard. Further, Judge Williams, Mr. Weaver, the OOIDA and presumably the three other drivers agreed that these two challenges of the FMCSA's methodology in determining risk factors for drivers and that smaller fleets are discriminated against due to this methodology, were so similar that he was going to transfer it to the D.C. District Court to be heard together.

In addition to the methodology and the discrimination, it was also brought to the attention of the court that violations that were found to be inaccurate finding the carrier not guilty or the situation being dismissed in court, were unable to be removed from that carrier's or driver's record without State approval and the FMCSA has no jurisdiction to "order" States to amend their records. In this case, Montana was refusing to remove the false information. Judge Williams noted that the challenge of "Ordering the Deletion of False or Incorrect Information" from said records would be heard by his court. In my opinion, Judge Williams did exactly what is correct, proper and lawful. Kudos to Judge Williams, Thank you Your Honor.

Be all that as it may, let us remember some two years ago, or so, that the FMCSA was so anxious to regulate something that they came out with a half finished, limited release, even before the public comment period, (which I believe court action was required to allow the comment period to proceed), that it was an unmitigated disaster. Early on, a suit was brought against the FMCSA by ATA, AEMCA and others questioning the legality of some of the  regulations they were writing, as they were in conflict with or already purview of the DOT. According to court records, no matter the FMCSA's appraisal of a transportation company through their BASIC's score or any other methodology they came up with, at this point in time, to rate trucking companies, the only "score" that matters is what you are rated after a DOT audit. As a common or contract carrier, there are only three categories that a trucking company can be classified as, which are "Satisfactory" , "Conditional" or "Out of Service". Although poor FMCSA scores are a bright red flag for the DOT, the DOT still has the final say. The law has now been written and viewed by the public. As Ms. Pelosi said about The Affordable Care Act, (ObamaCare), "We have to implement the law so we know what's in it." Same here, only this effects people's livelihoods. No matter what the law says, potential clients are going to look at those BASICS, true or false, and make a determination about your company, whether you run a safe operation or not. Guess who the work goes too. A comment that struck me was spoken early on when only a few states were hit with the initial rollout. An employee of the FMCSA  said "We are surprised to find that many companies, some big ones, that we thought were safe, we now, using our new BASICS and methodology, are finding these once thought to be very safe companies are turning out to be very unsafe." The companies he was speaking of had no violations, out of service situations and no accidents. Something wrong with this picture? Why don't we save everybody a lot of time and money. Close the DOT "wannabe" (FMCSA) and beef up DOT. I would rather deal with trained professionals in place of a crowd of late 20-early 30 something's who have never driven anything but a rented moving truck in their lives, are learning the real world on my dime and are more concerned with getting promoted than  learning about the business. Who knew moving a box or two from one place to another could get so complicated. I think trucking is the most regulated, deregulated business of which I am aware.               

James Jaillet is the News Editor for CCJ and Overdrive. Reach him at