C.H. Robinson Company ("CHR") is a transportation broker. Brokers have long contracted with motor carriers as independent contractors. Generally, a broker or any other entity is not responsible for the negligent actions of an independent contractor. However, in Schramm v. Foster, 341 F. Supp. 2d 356 (D. Md. 2004), the District Court allowed a plaintiff's negligent hiring claim to survive summary judgment opening the floodgates to similar claims in personal injury actions throughout the nation. Since that time, lawyers defending brokers have fought vigorously to have these claims dismissed, with mixed results. See Jones v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., 558 F. Supp. 2d 630 (W.D. Va. 2008) (holding a genuine issue of fact existed regarding plaintiff's negligent hiring claim); Sperl v. C.H. Robinson, 946 N.E.2d 463 (Ill. App. 2011) (holding the broker had the right to control the work of the driver); Hayward v. C.H. Robinson, Co., 24 N.E.3d 48 (Ill. App. 2014) (holding broker was only concerned with end result and did not control the driver's methods); Mann v. C. H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., Civil Action No. 7:16-cv-00102, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117503 (W.D. Va. July 27, 2017) (denying CHR's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's negligent hiring claim).
In Volkova v. C.H. Robinson Company, et. al, Case No. 16-CV-1883, United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Plaintiff brought a wrongful death suit following a collision between a passenger vehicle and a tractor-trailer operated by a driver for Antioch Transport, Inc. ("Antioch"). In addition to suing the truck driver and motor carrier, Plaintiff sued CHR, alleging that as a transportation broker, it negligently hired Antioch. Specifically, Plaintiff asserted that CHR was liable for failing to perform a sufficient investigation and evaluation in hiring Antioch and its driver to transport freight. In support of this claim, Plaintiff alleged CHR failed to inspect any publicly available safety data on Antioch such as BASIC Scores.
On February 7, 2018, District Court Judge Ronald Guzman issued a memorandum opinion and order dismissing Plaintiff's negligent hiring claim against CHR based upon FAAAA preemption. This opinion is a major victory for freight brokers whose liability has been wildly expanded by other courts in recent years. See Mann v. C. H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.
The relevant FAAAA provision, 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1), provides that "a State…may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier…or any private motor carrier, broker, or freight forwarder with respect to the transportation of property." (emphasis added). Justice Guzman found Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint demonstrated that the negligent hiring claim was directly related to CHR's core service – hiring motor carriers to transport shipments. Because Plaintiff's negligent hiring claim had a significant economic impact on the services CHR provides, it was preempted.
The Northern District of Illinois is not the first to hold that the FAAAA preempts state law. See Dan's City Used Cars, Inc. v. Pelkey, 569 U.S. 251, 133 S. Ct. 1769 (2013). In Dan's City the U.S. Supreme Court held that the FAAAA expressly preempts any state law regarding the price, route, or service of any motor carrier in respect to the transportation of property. The Court further held the FAAAA's use of the phrase "related to" means state laws with both a direct or indirect effect on a motor carrier's transportation of goods are preempted. Justice Guzman relied heavily on the Supreme Court's decision in Dan's City in ruling on Volkova.
Guzman further rejected Plaintiff's argument that because her claim involved a personal injury, rather than property, it should survive preemption. Guzman recognized recent cases, such as Mann v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, have allowed personal injury claims to survive preemption, but stated those courts have not faithfully followed the preemption analysis established by the Supreme Court. Citing Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transportation Association, 552 U.S. 364 (2008), Justice Guzman held the U.S. Supreme Court's preemption analysis does not change because the injury is to a person rather than property. He further rejected Plaintiff's argument that dismissing her negligent hiring claim left her with no remedy as Plaintiff could and was seeking recourse against Antioch and its driver.
Those representing freight brokers and their insurers are advised to intimately familiarize themselves with Volkova v. C.H. Robinson Company and Dan's City Used Cars, Inc. v. Pelkey as both will help provide a defense against negligent hiring claims against brokers.