The Future of Freight – Part I: A Blog Series Regarding C.H. Robinson and Federal Preemption

Miller v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., one of the most impactful lawsuits in recent history for the trucking industry, is currently on appeal to the United States Supreme Court. In this case, defendant broker C.H. Robinson asserted that 49 U.S.C. § 14501 (the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994, the “F4A”) preempts the plaintiffs’ state law claims. The implications of this case may ring for years to come, as the Court determines whether trucking brokerage firms may face state law claims for the negligent acts of the motor carriers to which they broker loads. This blog series will walk through the impact of the various decisions involved in the Miller v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., from the district court, through the course of appeal, to the implications of the Court’s ultimate decision.

Despite including the word “Aviation” in its title, section (c)(1) of the F4A preempts motor carriers, brokers, or freight forwarder from any state law which are “related to a price, route, or service … with respect to the transportation of property.” Additionally, section (b)(1) of the F4A grants a broad general rule that no state or political subdivision, or agency of two or more states, may enact or enforce any law, rule, regulation, standard, or other provision affecting intrastate routes, or services of freight forwarders or brokers. Courts have applied F4A preemption to a broad range of state claims, from freight claims to class actions to personal injury cases.

An attorney seeking to use the preemption defense must look closely at the state law claim being brought determine if the facts support a preemption defense due to the state limiting or forcing a change in a motor carrier’s “price, route, or service.” The pending decision in Miller v. C.H. Robinson will grant guidance on F4A preemption to attorneys and corporations alike.