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Media Alerts - Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Ass'n v. U.S. Dept. of Transportation
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July 26, 2013
  Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Ass'n v. U.S. Dept. of Transportation
Headline: D.C. Circuit holds finds no clear statement in Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act to support repudiation of U.S. agreement with Mexico and Canada

Area of Law: Statutory Interpretation; Separation of Powers

Issue(s) Presented: Whether a facially unambiguous statute of general application can abrogate an existing international agreement without some further indication Congress intended such a repudiation.

Brief Summary: The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) challenged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) decision to exempt commercial vehicle operators licensed in Mexico or Canada from certain medical certification requirements. Under federal law, commercial vehicle operators have to be licensed and have to have a separate medical certification attesting to their fitness. 49 U.S.C. ยงยง 31302, 31136(a)(3). At the same time, the United States has entered into executive agreements with Mexico and Canada for reciprocal licensing to facilitate trade. Unlike the American licensing procedure, which requires a separate medical certification, the Mexican and Canadian licensing processes incorporate consideration of physical criteria into their commercial vehicle licensing programs and have no separate certification. In 2005, after the United States had negotiated the reciprocal licensing agreements, Congress passed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act ("the Act"), which sets forth detailed requirements for separate medical certifications and makes no mention of Canada and Mexico. Subsequently, the FMCSA proposed a rule exempting Mexico and Canada from the requirements of the Act. OOIDA filed a petition for review with the D.C. Circuit challenging the final rule exempting Mexico and Canada from the certification requirements.

A split panel of the D.C. Circuit held that, while the text of the Act is unambiguous and purports to govern all commercial vehicle operators, the court would not construe the statute to abrogate existing international agreements without some "clear and overt" indication from Congress. Noting that a contrary result might significantly alter the balance between Congress and the President, the court reasoned that a clear statement rule served important separation of powers interests and "serves to protect against unintended clashes between our laws and those of other nations which could result in international discord."

Senior Circuit Judge Sentelle dissented on the basis that the statute is clear and that the court lacks authority to rewrite it.

For the full text of this opinion, please visit

Panel: Garland, Brown, Sentelle
Significance: The court adopts a "clear statement" rule to prevent implicit abrogation of international agreements even where the statute plainly, unambiguously applies.

Argument Date: May 6, 2013

Date of Issued Opinion: July 26, 2013

Docket Number: 12-1264

Decided: July 26, 2013

Case Alert Author: Tiffany Kelley

Counsel (if known): Paul D. Cullen, Sr., Joyce E. Mayers, and Paul D. Cullen, Jr. for petitioner. Dana Kaersvang, Stuart F. Delery, Ronald C. Machen, Jr., Michael S. Raab, Michael P. Abate, Paul M. Geier, and Peter J. Plocki for the respondents.

Author of Opinion: Brown

Case Alert Circuit Supervisors: Elizabeth Beske, Ripple Weistling

    Posted By: Ripple Weistling @ 07/26/2013 01:15 PM     DC Circuit  

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