There are major differences between state and federal courts. State courts are commonly referred to as general jurisdiction courts, where a judge’s courtroom is able to hear and decide issues ranging from common law to state and federal statutes. But federal courts do not enjoy the same latitude in hearing and deciding cases.
The role of the federal judiciary is constricted to hearing cases and controversies as defined by the U.S. Constitution in Article III. This limitation on federal courts prevents a federal judge from deciding a case based primarily on state law (unless the parties are from different states). This concept is known as subject matter jurisdiction.
Court Balks at Deciding Case
This legal principle of subject matter jurisdiction was recently put on display by a federal court out of California. In that case, a trucking company was suing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration over a pending stop work order. But before the court even addressed the merits and ultimate issues of that case, it first explained why it did not have the authority to come to any conclusion on the agency’s actions.
In that case, Foothill Packing, Inc. v. United States Department of Transportation, the FMCSA issued a cease work order to the company. The company was ordered to cease work after failing a compliance review of their operations. The company appealed to the agency, but it did not look like they would reverse their decision, but had thirty days to decide under federal law.
Instead of waiting for the agency to decide, the company took their case to the federal court. In their suit the company asked the court to set aside the agency’s decision, and allow them to go forward with their work. They based their petition on the improvements made since the stop work order. But the company failed to persuade the court that they had authority to hear the case.
Under federal law, a court is not allowed to hear and decide a case based on agency actions until the agency action is final, and all administrative methods of appealing the decision have been exhausted. Of course there are exceptions to this general rule, but in the majority of cases a federal court will not hear or decide issues on agency actions until it is final. In this case the court did not decide the merits because the agency still had time to decide on the company’s appeal.
Knowing when and how to make a case federal is important, particularly to those in the trucking industry. Most cases involving trucking companies will be heard in federal court because the nature of the business is interstate. Therefore federal courts are better equipped and have the jurisdiction to hear these cases. So getting the right legal team on your side is key.
Your Partner in Federal Court
At Anderson and Yamada we dedicate our legal practice to representing clients dealing with trucking law issues in federal courts. If you have a legal issue involving your trucking company, contact us today. We are the team your company needs.