The Supreme Court handed the American Trucking Assn. a partial victory on Thursday, ruling that drivers don't have to affix the "How am I driving?" placards on its trucks or have off-site parking plans in order to haul goods in and out of the Port of Los Angeles.
The trucking association sued the city of Los Angeles, which operates the port, to overturn the Clean Truck Program.
The program, enacted in 2008 to curb pollution at the largest port in the country, sought to restrict the types of trucks that carried goods to and from the port.
Trucking companies had to abide by rules such as placing placards on trucks that listed a phone number to report environmental or safety concerns. If companies violated these rules, they were subject to criminal penalties.
The court unanimously struck down the placard provision, as well as another rule that required trucking companies to have off-street parking locations when trucks were not in service.
The trucking association heralded the ruling.
"We are gratified that, at the conclusion of many years of litigation, the highest court in the land unanimously agreed with ATA on these rules," said Bill Graves, the association's president. "Our position has always been that the port's attempt to regulate drayage operators -- in ways that had nothing to do with its efforts to improve air quality at the port -- was inconsistent with Congress' command that the trucking industry be shaped by market forces, rather than an incompatible patchwork of state and local regulations."
Justice Elena Kagan wrote the opinion for the court, which rejected the Port of L.A's argument that it acted like a private party in requiring trucking companies to abide by the so-called concession contracts.
"The port here has not acted as a private party, contracting in a way that the owner of an ordinary commercial enterprise could mimic," Kagan wrote. "Rather, it has forced terminal operators -- and through them, trucking companies -- to alter their conduct by implementing a criminal prohibition punishable by time in prison."
The port tried to defend the criminal penalties by arguing that the fines would be levied against terminal operators, not trucking companies.
But the court rejected that argument: "Slice it or dice it any which way, the port thus acted with the force of law," Kagan wrote.
In a brief statement, port and city officials said their attorneys were reviewing the ruling to determine how it would affect operations.
The Supreme Court did not rule on another issue regarding whether the port could use other parts of the agreement to punish violations. On those issues, it sent the case back to a lower court for further consideration.