Appealing a Final Order by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

Kevin Anderson Citations / Violations, Regulations, Transportation

The FMCSA is a the agency responsible for establishing rules and regulations stemming from the safety standards issued by congress through federal law. In the course of their mission the FMCSA issues countless orders, mandates, regulations, and rules. Then the agency follows up with those rules and enforces them through various means including fines and shutting down companies. But what can a company do when they disagree with an order by the agency?

There are number of different ways that a company can challenge FMCSA actions, and each way depends on the issue at hand. If a company, or an industry group, feels like the FMCSA has issued an unconstitutional regulations, their first stop will most likely be in federal district court to argue the regulation’s validity.

Federal district court is not always the first stop for challenging agency actions. If the agency’s final actions are authorized by section 50501, 50502, 56101–56104, or 57109 of title 46 or pursuant to part B or C of subtitle IV, subchapter III of chapter 311, chapter 313, or chapter 315 of title 49, then congress has granted the federal appeals court with original jurisdiction to hear challenges of those rules. 28 U.S.C. § 2342(3)(A). This means that to challenge an agency rule issued under those federal laws, a company would go straight to the appeals court and file their challenge there.

Court Clarifies Rule for Hearing Agency Actions

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion that dealt with when an appeals court has original jurisdiction over an agency action. The case, Transam Trucking, Inc., v. FMCSA, No. 14-9503 (10th Cir. 2015), involved a trucking company’s complaint over a safety rating that the FMCSA issued during a compliance review report authorized by 49 C.F.R. § 385.3. Following the procedure laid out in that regulation, the agency cited the company for several violations, and later published their results.

Not happy with the published findings of the agency, the company challenged the findings in various ways. Eventually the agency and the company came to a settlement agreement that allowed would fix agency’s rating and the company’s perceived violations. But the company did not agree with how the agency kept up with their end of the settlement agreement. After fighting over the issue through attorneys the agency sent a final email saying that they would not change the company’s online review in the way the company wanted.

It was at this impasse that the company challenged the FMCSA’s failure to comply with the settlement agreement in a federal appeals court. The company argued that the appeals court was the right forum to settle the agreement because of the email giving final notice that the agency would not take further action on the issue. But the federal appeals court ruled that an email, in this context, did not amount to a final rule or regulation within the meaning of federal law, and therefore did not have the ability to decide the case without a district court first making a ruling.

As you can see from the facts relayed in this post, dealing with any federal agency involves a seemingly innumerable amount of rules, regulations, cases, and rulings that a company must navigate. That is why it is so important that your company have a qualified, experienced, and knowledgeable partner to help guide your company to success. Contact us at Anderson and Yamada, P.C., and let us put our experience to work for your company’s legal needs.