It has been a rough start for California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). Although it has only been in effect since January 1, the controversial law has already been the subject of several lawsuits, as well as two court rulings unfavorable to the bill and its advocates.
In December, a lawsuit was filed by the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) in conjunction with the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). They argue that AB5 is unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendment, meaning that the law fundamentally mishandles issues of free speech and equal protection under the law.
Uber and Postmates filed another legal challenge a few days later. They argue that “AB5 violates several constitutional rights including the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Ninth Amendment, and the contracts clause of Article I.”
The California Trucking Association (CTA), which filed its lawsuit back in November, had yet another point of contention with AB5, arguing that it “violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which makes federal law the supreme law of the land. As the complaint explains, AB5 violates federal prohibitions on state laws.” Essentially, the CTA argued that specific provisions of AB5 are preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994.
The Harbor Trucking Association is also a plaintiff in the suit filed by the CTA.
In response to the CTA’s suit, on December 31, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez issued a temporary restraining order preventing AB5 from being enforced “against any motor carrier in California, pending a final resolution of the lawsuit brought by the CTA.” A hearing on Judge Benitez’s ruling is scheduled for January 13.
Some media reports, including the San Francisco Chronicle, have portrayed this injunction as a minor bump in the road for AB5 and something likely to be overturned on appeal. However, the language used by Judge Benitez in his ruling indicates that the preemption argument has merit. In fact, Judge Benitez wrote, “the Court is persuaded by the likelihood of Plaintiffs’ success on the FAAAA preemption ground.”
Shortly after Judge Benitez issued the temporary restraining order, AB5 suffered another blow in court, this time at the state level. On Wednesday, January 8, Judge William F. Highberger of the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a ruling echoing the one issued by Judge Benitez. According to Judge Highberger, “an independent contractor/employee test required by the new state law, known as Assembly Bill 5, is preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994.”
So, where do we stand? After only being in effect for 10 days, AB5 has been the subject of multiple lawsuits, brought by a diverse array of plaintiffs. Court rulings at the state and federal level have indicated that the law is unconstitutional, while additional lawsuits are likely in the near future.