• Despite Heavy Federal Regulation of Drug and Alcohol Testing, Truck Drivers Retain Their State-Court Remedies
  • May 29, 2008 | Author: Lindsay V. Dennis
  • Law Firm: Holland & Knight LLP - Jacksonville Office
  • In Koob v. CRH Transportation, Inc., 2007 WL 4365731 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 10, 2007) David Koob, an over-the-road truck driver for the defendant, CRH Transportation, sued CRH for defamation, a state law claim. Koob alleged that CRH published a written document that gave the answer “yes” to the question of whether Koob had ever refused to take a drug or alcohol test as required by the Department of Transportation regulations. Koob claimed that this statement was false, and that he suffered damages because a potential employer read the false statement. CRH moved to dismiss Koob’s defamation claim, arguing that state law claims are preempted, or barred, by federal statutes regulating the transportation industry.

    To support its motion to dismiss, CRH stated that almost all of its transportation operations, including drug and alcohol testing of drivers, are governed by federal statutes and regulations. These federal regulations provide administrative remedies for interstate drivers who believe a motor-carrier employer improperly reported information to a prospective motor-carrier employer. CRH argued that Koob could not bring a state-law defamation claim because of the available administrative remedies.

    The District Court rejected CRH’s arguments, allowing Koob to move forward with his defamation claim in state court.

    • First, the Court stated that the Federal Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act (FOTETA), which directs the secretary of transportation to establish drug and alcohol testing regulations for the airline, railroad and trucking industries, does not preempt state-law claims associated with drug or alcohol testing. Although FOTETA provides that “[a] State or local government may not prescribe or continue in effect a law, regulation, standard, or order that is inconsistent with [drug and alcohol testing] regulations,” the Court found this language not to bar a defamation claim.
    • Second, the Court rejected CRH’s argument that the breadth of the federal statutory scheme governing the trucking industry showed Congress’ intent to preempt state law claims such as Koob’s.
    • Third, the Court rejected CRH’s argument that 49 U.S.C. § 508 preempted state law defamation claims. Section 508 states that “[n]o action or proceeding for defamation ... that is based on the furnishing or use of safety performance records ... may be brought against a motor carrier” as long as certain conditions are satisfied. Based on this language, the Court held that because Section 508 does not provide for a federal defamation claim, it therefore does not preempt Koob’s state law defamation claim.

    The federal statutes regulating the trucking industry do not provide a cause of action for defamation associated with drug and alcohol testing and reporting. The Court therefore reasoned that if it concluded the federal statutes preempted state law defamation claims, truck drivers would have no legal recourse against an employer who disclosed false information. The Court demonstrated its desire to retain an employee’s ability to seek redress for an employer’s defamatory statements related to drug and alcohol testing. As a result, motor carriers continue to be at risk of defending state law claims, such as defamation claims, associated with federally-regulated drug and alcohol testing.