Roderick Carter v. CPC Logistics, Inc.
UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Originating case number: ABR 15-050. Copies to all parties and the agency. . Mailed to: Roderick Carter. [17-1095]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
RODERICK A. CARTER,
CPC LOGISTICS, INC.; CPC MEDICAL PRODUCTS, LLC; HOSPIRA FLEET
SERVICES, LLC; DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Administrative Review Board,
On Petition for Review of an Order of the Department of Labor. (ARB 15-050)
Submitted: August 28, 2017
Decided: September 5, 2017
Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, and DUNCAN and WYNN, Circuit Judges.
Petition for review granted; case remanded by unpublished per curiam opinion.
Roderick A. Carter, Petitioner Pro Se. Michael F. Harris, HARRIS DOWELL FISHER
& HARRIS, L.C., Chesterfield, Missouri, for Respondents CPC Logistics, Inc. and CPC
Medical Products, LLC. Jerry H. Walters, Jr., LITTLER MENDELSON, P.C., Charlotte,
North Carolina, for Respondent Hospira Fleet Services, LLC. Nicholas C. Geale, Acting
Solicitor of Labor, Ann S. Rosenthal, Associate Solicitor for Occupational Safety and
Health, Heather R. Phillips, Allison Graham Kramer, UNITED STATES
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Washington, D.C., for Respondent Department Of Labor.
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Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.
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Roderick A. Carter petitions for review of the Administrative Review Board’s
(ARB) decision and order dismissing his complaint of retaliatory discharge filed pursuant
to the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 (STAA), 49 U.S.C. § 31105 (2012).
Carter initiated this action by filing a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) alleging that CPC Logistics, Inc., and CPC Medical Products,
LLC (collectively, CPC), along with Hospira Fleet Services, LLC (Hospira), violated the
STAA by terminating him from his job as a truck driver for engaging in the protected
activity of taking breaks when he became too tired to safely drive. 1 After the OSHA
Area Director dismissed Carter’s complaint, Carter requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ) with the Department of Labor. The ALJ found that CPC
was Carter’s employer and dismissed Hospira. 2 The ALJ further determined that Carter
engaged in STAA-protected activity on one occasion by refusing to drive while ill, but
found incredible Carter’s testimony that his delays during his trucking route were caused
by STAA-protected fatigue breaks and that he reported this to two of his CPC
supervisors. The ALJ then concluded that Carter’s one instance of STAA-protected
Carter also alleged that his protected activity included lodging complaints with
his superiors about CPC’s purported policy of not allowing drivers such breaks.
However, we conclude that Carter abandoned this claim by failing to press it at his
Hospira contracted with CPC to provide trucking services for the delivery of
Hospira supplies. Carter’s informal brief does not challenge the ALJ’s dismissal of
Hospira, and we thus conclude that Carter has forfeited appellate review of that issue.
See 4th Cir. R. 34(b) (limiting review to issues raised in informal brief).
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activity was not a contributing factor in his termination and therefore dismissed Carter’s
The ARB agreed with the ALJ and affirmed the dismissal of Carter’s
On appeal, Carter contends that the ALJ improperly discredited his testimony that
he engaged in additional instances of protected activity by refusing to drive when
fatigued and that he reported the need to take fatigue breaks to two supervisors when they
questioned him about the purportedly excessive time that it took for Carter to complete
his route. Our review of the record leads us to agree with Carter that the ALJ overlooked
important evidence in considering this issue, and therefore, we grant Carter’s petition for
review and remand for further proceedings.
“Under the scheme established by Congress, the Secretary of Labor makes final
determinations on [STAA] violations subject to appellate court review.” Calhoun v.
United States Dep’t of Labor, 576 F.3d 201, 208 (4th Cir. 2009) (ellipses and internal
quotation marks omitted); see also 49 U.S.C. § 31105(d) (establishing appellate court
review). “When reviewing the Secretary’s determination, we are bound by his legal
conclusions unless they are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not
in accordance with law, and by his factual findings if they are supported by substantial
evidence.” Yellow Freight Sys., Inc. v. Reich, 8 F.3d 980, 984 (4th Cir. 1993) (citations
and internal quotation marks omitted). Regarding the latter, substantial evidence means
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Pac Tell Group, Inc. v. NLRB, 817 F.3d 85, 90 (4th Cir. 2016) (internal
quotation marks omitted). In reviewing the Secretary’s ultimate decision, “[w]e are
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mindful . . . of the deference due the Secretary’s interpretation of a statute Congress
charged him with administering.” Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 8 F.3d at 984.
As pertinent here, the STAA prohibits an employer from discharging an employee
for refusing to operate a vehicle because “the operation violates a regulation, standard, or
order of the United States related to commercial motor vehicle safety, health, or
security.” 49 U.S.C. § 31105(a)(1)(B)(i). To prevail on a claim under § 31105(a)(1)(B),
an employee must first establish a prima facie case that “(1) he engaged in protected
activity, (2) his employer took adverse employment action against him, and (3) there is a
causal relationship between his protected activity and the adverse employment action.”
Calhoun, 576 F.3d at 209. The causal relationship prong is satisfied if the employee
shows that the protected activity was a contributing factor to the adverse employment
action. See 49 U.S.C. § 31105(b)(1) (stating that complaint filed under § 31105 is
governed by “burdens of proof” in 49 U.S.C. § 42121 (2012)); id. § 42121(b)(2)(B)(i)
(providing that employee must show that protected activity “was a contributing factor in
the unfavorable personnel action”).
We have previously recognized that the “driver fatigue rule,” 49 C.F.R. § 392.3
(2017), which prohibits a driver from operating a commercial motor vehicle while
suffering from an unsafe level of fatigue, falls within the protection of the STAA. Yellow
Freight Sys., Inc., 8 F.3d at 984. We have explained that “[t]he STAA protects . . . a
driver who may unexpectedly encounter fatigue on the course of a journey; [but] it
obviously does not protect delays unrelated to the statutory purposes of public and
personal safety.” Id. at 988.
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Here, Carter challenges the ARB’s adoption of the ALJ’s factual findings—based
on a credibility determination—that Carter never told his CPC supervisors that his delays
were caused by fatigue breaks and that Carter’s delays were not actually caused by such
We will only disturb an ALJ’s credibility determination under exceptional
circumstances—for example, when that “credibility determination is unreasonable,
contradicts other findings of fact, or is based on an inadequate reason or no reason at all.”
NLRB v. CWI of Md., Inc., 127 F.3d 319, 326 (4th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks
After observing the demeanor of the witnesses at the administrative hearing and
comparing the testimony with certain documentary evidence, the ALJ provided several
good reasons for finding that Carter’s testimony was generally unbelievable. However,
we conclude that the ALJ’s particular credibility finding on Carter’s claim that he
reported the need to take rest breaks to his supervisors does not enjoy the same record
support. Although the ALJ acknowledged that Carter made general statements that he
was entitled to rest breaks during his employment with CPC, the ALJ did not make a
finding as to whom these statements were made. Further, the ALJ declined to credit
Carter’s testimony that Carter told two of his supervisors that his delays were caused by
rest breaks—a finding that may conflict with the ALJ’s determination that Carter made
general statements on the topic because Carter testified that he made those general
statements regarding fatigue breaks to only three men, including the two supervisors.
Aside from these potentially conflicting findings, there is a significant problem
with the ALJ’s determination that Carter never mentioned fatigue breaks to his
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supervisors: CPC’s position statement to OSHA, which Carter introduced at the
administrative hearing, acknowledges that Carter mentioned fatigue breaks to two
supervisors when questioned about his performance. In fact, CPC and Carter agreed that
Carter mentioned fatigue breaks during a telephone conversation with a supervisor about
one month before he was fired, but the ALJ inexplicably found that fatigue breaks were
never mentioned during that conversation.
Given CPC’s concession that Carter
mentioned fatigue breaks to his supervisors when questioned about his delays, we
conclude that the ALJ’s finding that Carter never told his supervisors that his delays were
caused by such breaks is not supported by substantial evidence. 3 Furthermore, because
the ALJ’s finding that Carter’s delays were not truly caused by fatigue breaks rested on
this factual error, we also conclude that finding is not supported by substantial evidence.
We further conclude that the ALJ’s flawed factual analysis, adopted by the ARB,
prejudiced Carter. See Sea “B” Mining Co. v. Addison, 831 F.3d 244, 253 (4th Cir.
2016) (recognizing that we generally apply harmless error rule to administrative
adjudications). The evidence overlooked by the ALJ and the ARB is significant given
CPC’s admission that Carter’s delays were a factor in his termination, and thus, it is
impossible to determine that the ALJ’s error “did not adversely affect the outcome of
th[is] case.” Sparks v. Gilley Trucking Co., 992 F.2d 50, 53 (4th Cir. 1993). Because the
The ALJ’s credibility analysis on this issue also cited Carter’s failure to call
dispatch when he took a rest break “as he was required to do,” but the ALJ neglected to
cite any evidence indicating that a driver was required to notify dispatch each time he
took a break.
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impact of the ALJ’s error on Carter’s ability to establish a prima facie case of retaliation
cannot be measured, remand is required.
Accordingly, we grant Carter’s petition for review and remand for the Secretary to
reconsider Carter’s refusal to drive claim against CPC in light of CPC’s statements that
Carter reported taking fatigue breaks to CPC management when asked about his delays
and that Carter’s delays were a factor in his termination. We dispense with oral argument
because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before
this court and argument would not aid the decisional process.
PETITION FOR REVIEW GRANTED;
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