Driver Fatigue Case and Fourth Amendment Trucker Rights Decided by Fed Judge

February 17, 2011

US District Judge Donovan Frank sitting in federal court in Minnesota ruled in favor of a trucker who had been pulled over and classified as "fatigued" by MN State Police. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) announced in a press release that he ruling was "historic" and a "major victory" for truckers and their rights.

OOIDA led the civil prosecution using the case of one of its members, Stephen House. House had been pulled over by MN State Police and was placed "out of service" by them, after performing a checklist of procedures upon him. From this they determined he was suffering from "fatigue" and stopped him from continuing on to destination. The federal court ruled that MN State Police had violated his 4th Amendment rights as the fatigue checklist and inspection exceeded the remit of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) Level III requirements. The increasing use of putting truckers "out of service" is having a significant impact upon carrier efficiency but doubtful benefit on road safety.

Jim Johnston, President of OOIDA said, "This decision is a great win for professional truckers" after the ruling was handed down. The case was initially filed in May 2009 against MN State Police and the individual officers who were involved in the fatigue inspection.

This is thought to be the very first instance of a successful 4th Amendment argument being made in connection with trucker rights, and certainly in connection with commercial vehicle inspections.

Essentially, the ruling from the federal judge means that police officers and compliance inspector must have "reasonable articulable suspicion" – in plain English, they must have a good reason to suspect something is wrong and be able to say why.

In this specific case, House was pulled over in May 2008 as part of a mass inspection by MN State Police. He and several other truckers were compelled to submit to what OOIDA claims was a "mass inspection frenzy," without any reasonable justification. House was asked questions such as the size of his neck, how often he went to a rest room to urinate and whether he had Playboy magazines, computers and a TV in the rig. The relevance of such questions is itself justification for calling into question the relevance and reasonableness of the fatigue inspections held. After all, can you imagine the furor which would result from car drivers being pulled over on the Interstate and asked the same questions?

The federal judge agreed and ruled there was zero evidence that the recordings and notes taken by the inspecting officers gave any basis to conclude there was a reasonable basis for articulable suspicion House was fatigued. To ram the point home to the MN State Police, he also ordered that House and OOIDA should be awarded there attorney fees.

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