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Silverado Stages, Inc. v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

January 15, 2016

SILVERADO STAGES, INC., PETITIONER
v.
FEDERAL MOTOR CARRIER SAFETY ADMINISTRATION AND UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENTS

Argued: December 9, 2015.

On Petition for Review of an Order of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

William H. Shawn argued the cause and filed the briefs for petitioner.

Gerard Sinzdak, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Benjamin C. Mizer, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and Matthew M. Collette, Attorney.

Before: ROGERS, TATEL and WILKINS, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Wilkins, Circuit Judge

Petitioner Silverado Stages, Inc., a California charter bus service, petitions this Court for review of a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (" FMCSA" ) determination denying Silverado's petition for administrative review after the FMCSA publicly reported that Silverado violated a number of federal and state safety regulations. Because some of Silverado's claims should have been brought before the District Court, and we find those properly before us meritless, we deny Silverado's petition.

I.

A.

Congress requires the Department of Transportation (" DOT" ) to " determine whether an owner or operator is fit to operate safely commercial motor vehicles," based upon, among other things, " the safety inspection record of such owner or operator." 49 U.S.C. § 31144(a)(1). DOT is also required to " make such final safety fitness determinations readily available to the public." Id. § 31144(a)(3). DOT has delegated these responsibilities to the FMCSA. See 49 C.F.R. § 1.86 (listing the overall responsibilities of the FMCSA).

The standards and procedures the FMCSA uses to determine the safety of motor carriers such as Silverado is provided in 49 C.F.R. § 385 et seq. See id. § 385.1(a) (" This part establishes the FMCSA's procedures to determine the safety fitness of motor carriers, to assign safety ratings, to direct motor carriers to take remedial action when required, and to prohibit motor carriers receiving a safety rating of 'unsatisfactory' from operating a [commercial motor vehicle]." ). These procedures require the FMCSA to assign each carrier a safety rating based on an on-site examination of that carrier's operations. See id. § 385.9 (describing the procedure for assigning a safety rating). The result of that examination is twofold. First, the FMCSA issues violations to carriers found to be out of compliance with pertinent safety regulations. See id. pt. 385, App. A (explaining the safety audit evaluation process). The FMCSA may seek civil penalties for such violations. See 49 U.S.C. § 521(b); 49 C.F.R. § 386.11(c). Second, based on these violations, as well as other factors such as the carrier's accident history, see 49 C.F.R. § 385.7, the FMCSA assigns carriers one of three ratings: " satisfactory," " conditional," or " unsatisfactory," id. § 385.3. An " unsatisfactory" rating precludes a carrier from operating a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce. 49 U.S.C. § 31144(c); 49 C.F.R. § 385.13.

A carrier may petition the FMCSA to review its safety rating pursuant to 49 C.F.R. § 385.15. The agency will adjust the carrier's rating if it finds that it made " an error in assigning [the carrier's] proposed or final safety rating." Id. § 385.15(a). Because the FMCSA uses the § 385.15 review process to review only a carrier's safety rating, the FMCSA typically will not review the validity of carrier safety violations as a part of that process. See FMCSA Order Dismissing Pet. For Admin. Review of Safety Rating (" FMCSA Order" ), J.A. 13 (" In a petition filed under 49 CFR 385.15, the only relief afforded for any alleged errors in calculating a safety rating is an upgrade of Petitioner's safety rating. Therefore, only errors affecting a safety rating will be addressed in a 49 CFR 385.15 proceeding." ). The FMCSA will review a carrier's safety violations, in addition to the safety rating itself, when, and only when, the agency is reviewing a carrier's appeal of a less-than-" satisfactory" rating, and only if it is necessary to determine whether the FMCSA should change the carrier's rating. See Resp't's Br. 18 n.2 (" To be clear, a carrier who received a 'conditional' or 'unsatisfactory' rating can challenge particular violations in the course of a § 385.15 proceeding, and FMCSA will correct violation information during that proceeding if the correction is necessary to its decision to upgrade a carrier's safety rating." ).

The FMCSA provides information to the public about operating motor carriers through a searchable, web-based information database called the Safety Measurement System (" SMS" ). See Safety Measurement System, FED. MOTOR CARRIER SAFETY ADMIN., https://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/sms/ (last visited January 5, 2016). A carrier's SMS profile displays the carrier's overall safety rating, as well as specific information about violations that either the FMCSA or other agencies have issued against that carrier. These violations are grouped into seven categories, each of which is represented by a large icon displayed on the front page of the carrier's profile. If an agency has issued certain violations against the carrier within a given category, a large, yellow warning triangle is placed on top of that category icon.[1] The FMCSA uses the SMS to collect violation information from a variety of sources, including the separate but related Motor Carrier Management Information System (" MCMIS" ), to determine which carriers should be prioritized for inspections. See 79 Fed.Reg. 32,491, 32491-92 (June 5, 2014); 75 Fed.Reg. 18,256, 18,258 (Apr. 9, 2010).

To maintain the accuracy of the information displayed within the SMS, the FMCSA has created DataQs, " a web-based dispute resolution [system] that allows an individual to challenge data maintained by FMCSA." Weaver v. FMCSA, 744 F.3d 142, 143, 408 U.S.App.D.C. 361 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). The FMCSA allows carriers to use DataQs to challenge those safety violations that the FMCSA will not review through its § 385.15 process. See 79 Fed.Reg. at 32,492 (" A driver has always been able to challenge the correctness of a violation that has been cited in a roadside inspection report using the DataQs system, whether a citation has been issued for that violation or not." ). DataQs users submit their requests for review by filling in text fields in a web application. See DataQs Analyst Guide § 3.1, available at https://dataqs.fmcsa.dot.gov/Data/Guide/DataQs_Users_Guide_and_Best_Practices_Manual.pdf. (providing background on the DataQs system). DataQs also permits users to provide additional information by submitting ...


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