The express preemption provision of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (“FAAAA”) bars Florida negligence claims against a transportation broker based on the broker’s selection of motor carrier. Aspen American Insurance Company v. Landstar Ranger, Inc., 65 F.4th 1261 (11th Cir. 2023).

The owner of cargo hired a transportation broker to secure a motor carrier to transport an expensive load to a purchaser across state lines. The transportation broker mistakenly turned the shipment over to a thief posing as a carrier registered with the broker, resulting in the loss of the cargo. The owner’s insurer brought suit in federal court against the broker, claiming that it was negligent under Florida law in its selection of the carrier.

The district court dismissed the negligence claims, holding that those claims were expressly preempted by the FAAAA. The FAAAA bars state law claims “related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier . . . , broker, or freight forwarder with respect to the transportation of property.” The FAAAA also has a safety exception which provides that the preemption provision “shall not restrict the safety regulatory authority of a State with respect to motor vehicles.” The district court held that the safety provision was inapplicable to negligence claims against a broker based on stolen goods.

In an opinion written by Judge Brasher and joined by Judges Wilson and Jordan, the Eleventh Circuit first analyzed the scope of the FAAAA’s preemption provision. The court noted that the “related to” phrase in the statute should be interpreted broadly. The court also explained that the FAAAA’s regulations defined “brokerage service” as the “arranging of transportation . . . of a motor vehicle or of property . . . on behalf of a motor carrier.” The court therefore concluded that a core part a broker’s service of transportation of property is selecting the carrier. Accordingly, the court held that the claims have a “connection with or reference to” the service of a broker with respect to the transportation of property and fell within the preemption provision’s scope. The Eleventh Circuit explicitly noted that while the FAAAA does not preempt “general” state laws, the specific allegations against the broker involved brokers’performance of their core transportation-related services and therefore fell within the scope of the FAAAA’s preemption provision.

The court then considered whether the safety exception to the preemption provision would save the negligence claims. The court explained that to fall within the safety exception, the negligence standard must constitute an exercise of “safety regulatory authority,” and that authority must have been exercised “with respect to motor vehicles.” The court held that the “safety regulatory authority” requirement was satisfied because Florida’s common law negligence standard is “genuinely responsive to safety concerns.” However, the court held that the “with respect to motor vehicles” requirement was not satisfied. The court concluded that the phrase “with respect to motor vehicles” limits the safety exception’s application to state laws that have a direct relationship to motor vehicles. Since the court believed that only an indirect connection existed between the negligence claims and motor vehicles, the court held that the safety exception could not save the negligence claims. Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to dismiss the negligence claims.