Trucker wins fatigue inspection case

Updated Feb 9, 2011

A federal judge has ruled Minnesota State Patrol conduct during a 2008 fatigue inspection violated a trucker’s rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

In May 2008, officers pulled over Stephen K. House, owner of Eagle Trucking Enterprises, for a Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance Level III inspection during a FIST patrol event. FIST is an acronym for fatigue impairment, seatbelt violations, and other traffic violations, which is checked mostly through these inspections at weigh stations.
They made inquiries regarding his neck size, urination habits, financial affairs, allergies and family illnesses, according to the suit. Officers also asked if he had specific items in his cab, including Playboy magazines, food wrappers, food and a computer.
Law enforcement placed House, a trucker of 32 years with at least 3 million accident-free miles, out-of-service for 10 hours. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and House consequently filed suit.
On Jan. 28, Judge Donovan Frank, U.S. District of Minnesota, ruled the defendants’ investigation exceeded what the law entitles.
“In doing so, defendants continued the detention of House beyond what was reasonably related to the circumstances that justified House’s detention at the beginning of the weigh station stop,” Frank wrote. “Defendants did not have a reasonable articulable suspicion that House was impaired, and the continued duration of the detention as well as the broad scope of questions by the defendants constituted a seizure in violation of House’s Fourth Amendment right against an unreasonable seizure.”
The parties will meet for a March 2 settlement-mediation to discuss prospective remedies. Frank ordered House’s out of service record wiped clean, and OOIDA and House are also entitled to an award of attorney fees and costs.
Frank stated he assumed the conference would focus on the current procedures, which did not exist when House was placed out of service. The conference should also address if other truckers similarly cited during the event are entitled to having their records wiped clean, he said.
“All of which (procedures) the court has found to be constitutional as long as they are followed by properly trained commercial vehicle inspectors and law enforcement,” Frank wrote.
In 2010, the patrol issued an order clarifying limitations and restrictions of inspectors
and troopers who conduct North American Standard Training and Inspections
when impairment is due to fatigue, illness, or other causes.