Supreme Court Of The United States Declines To Address Whether Plaintiff’s State Law Tort Claims Are Preempted By The FAAAA

Robert D. Boroff By Robert D. Boroff, Devin A. Bembnister

On June 27, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States disappointingly denied C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.’s Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to review the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Miller v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., 976 F.3d 1016 (9th Cir. 2020). In Miller, a commercial truck driver lost control of his tractor-trailer and crossed over a median striking a passenger vehicle driven by the plaintiff. The plaintiff sued, among others, the freight broker of the load and alleged that it negligently selected an unsafe motor carrier. The freight broker argued that the plaintiff’s state law tort claim was preempted by the 1994 Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (“FAAAA”), specifically 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1), and the federal district court agreed as it granted the freight broker’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and held that state law tort claims against a freight broker are not preempted by the FAAAA.

In recent years, freight brokers have successfully and unsuccessfully relied upon the FAAAA for the proposition that a plaintiff’s state law tort claims against them are preempted given that such claims impermissibly amount to the regulation of a “service of… any… broker with respect to the transportation of property.” Though the Ninth Circuit in Miller recognized that the plaintiff’s negligent selection claim did in fact “relate” to the “services” of a “broker,” the court ultimately held that the plaintiff’s claim fell within the “safety exception” to the FAAAA. The “safety exception” found in 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(2)(A) provides that the FAAAA “shall not restrict the safety regulatory authority of a State with respect to motor vehicles” and the Ninth Circuit concluded in Miller that “the safety regulatory of a state” encompasses plaintiffs’ state law tort claims and that such negligence claims “stem from motor vehicle accidents” so that they “are with respect to motor vehicles.”

The freight broker in Miller filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States on April 8, 2021, and after the filing of numerous briefs, including amicus curiae briefs, the Supreme Court of the United States formally denied the freight broker’s Petition on June 27, 2022.

Though the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Miller is certainly not the law of the land, it is currently the only federal appellate court that has ruled on whether FAAAA preemption applies to negligence claims against freight brokers. There are numerous district court cases throughout the country, however, that have disagreed with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling and rationale. E.g. Creagan v. Wal-Mart Transportation, LLC, 354 F.Supp.3d 808, 813 (N.D.Ohio 2018); Gillum v. High Standard, LLC, W.D.Tex. No. SA-19-CV-1378-XR, 2020 WL 444371, * 6 (Jan. 27, 2020); Loyd v. Salazar, 416 F.Supp.3d 1290, 1297-1300 (W.D.Okla. 2019); Volkova v. C.H. Robinson Company, N.D. Ill. No. 16 C 1883, 2018 WL 741441, at * 4 (Feb. 2, 2018); Gauthier v. Hard to Stop LLC, S.D.Ga. No. 6:20-cv-93, 2022 WL 344557, *6 (Feb. 4, 2022).

The Supreme Court of the United States’ denial to review Miller at this time should result in other FAAAA rulings being appealed to their respective appellate courts. If there becomes a split among the federal circuits, we would not be surprised if the Supreme Court of the United States eventually accepts a petition for a writ of certiorari to review FAAAA preemption as it applies to freight brokers so that there is uniformity and consistency throughout the country.

We, therefore, would recommend that freight brokers continue to assert the FAAAA preemption defense, file dispositive motions, and consider filing appeals where appropriate so that other federal circuit courts can decide this issue.