California Trucking Association's AB 5 lawsuit still pending with Supreme Court

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Updated Oct 8, 2021

Despite published reports Tuesday, the California Trucking Association’s case against California’s restrictive AB 5 independent contractor law is still pending with the U.S. Supreme Court.

An article published Tuesday by news agency Reuters claimed that SCOTUS had denied CTA’s petition for the Supreme Court to hear its case, which challenges the California law that codified the ABC test for determining independent contractor status, which would effectively ban the leased owner-operator model in the state. The 'B' prong of the ABC test is what proves to be problematic for trucking, as it requires a contractor to be outside the normal course of business of the entity contracted to. 

Instead, the Supreme Court denied hearing a case from drayage carrier Cal Cartage (a subsidiary of CCJ Top 250 No. 21 carrier NFI), which, while similar, was limited to the carrier’s ability to use independent contractors. The SCOTUS decision on the Cal Cartage case has no bearing on CTA's case, which is still pending SCOTUS review and applies to the trucking industry as a whole.

“The contributions of California’s 70,000 independent truckers have been vital to keeping the United States afloat during this supply chain crisis,” CTA CEO Shawn Yadon said Tuesday when reached by CCJ. “They deserve their day in court, and we are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will grant the CTA’s petition in CTA v. Bonta.”

[Related: The California contractor conundrum: 'It’s a waiting game, with a lot at stake']

CTA filed its petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court in August. If SCOTUS chooses to hear the case, the injunction currently in place exempting trucking from AB 5 will be stayed until the Supreme Court’s disposition of the case. If SCOTUS declines to hear the case, the injunction will be lifted immediately.

CTA is fundamentally asking the Court to rule that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act's prohibition on state laws that impact "prices, routes or services" of motor carriers should preempt application of the ABC contractor test that AB 5 codified in 2019.

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Reached by CCJ Tuesday morning, Greg Feary, president and managing partner of Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hansen and Feary, said in the CTA case, the State of California still has until Oct. 12 to file its brief in the case, and CTA will then have time to respond to the state’s petition before SCOTUS decides whether or not it will hear the case.

In April, California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ABC test within AB 5 for determining independent contractor status in California should apply to the trucking industry, essentially banning the leased owner-operator model in the state. The court denied a request for a rehearing in June, then granted a stay to CTA to keep trucking’s exemption from the law in place until the case plays out in the U.S. Supreme Court.

[Related: Nationalized ABC test would ice trucking’s independent contractor model]