BREAKING: Ninth Circuit denies rehearing of Walmart sleeper berth case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has denied a petition by Walmart Inc. [NYSE: WMT] to rehear a lower court’s decision that awarded $54.6 million to former California truck drivers for time spent in a sleeper berth during layovers between trips.

Walmart had requested both a panel hearing and a rehearing en banc — typically by a chief judge and 10 additional judges — which were both denied.

“The full court has been advised of the petition for rehearing en banc and no judge has requested a vote on whether to rehear the matter en banc,” according to the 9th Circuit’s decision on Thursday. “The petition for panel rehearing and the petition for rehearing en banc are denied.”

The American Trucking Associations, the California Trucking Association, CRST Expedited Inc. and U.S. Xpress Inc. [NYSE: USX] had supported Walmart’s petition, filed in January, through an amicus brief filed Jan. 31. The four supporters of Walmart’s petition “have a strong interest in the outcome of this case, which has major implications for the treatment of time that drivers spend off-duty in a truck’s sleeper berth under California wage law,” according to the brief.

Walmart’s attorneys had argued that the jury in the lower court was instructed to follow “narrow” language in the retailer’s pay manual to determine if it was exercising control over the drivers even during nondriving times. The petition came two weeks after the appeals court’s three-judge panel upheld the lower court’s decision that found drivers involved in a class-action suit were entitled to back wages under California law.

ATA’s brief warned of “far-ranging implications” if a rehearing isn’t granted, predicting it would “usher in a massive new wave of minimum wage litigation,” with lower courts struggling to deal with the implications of the ruling.

“Every motor carrier has an obligation — both to the motoring public and to its customers — to impose some conditions on drivers before they go off-duty, such as requiring that the driver park the truck in a safe, secure, and legal location before beginning an off-duty period elsewhere,” they state. “No motor carrier would expect that such minor, routine limitations on drivers’ ability to unilaterally go off-duty would represent the kind of control that renders the off-duty time compensable.”