As most readers of Land Line know, in August 1997, OOIDA and certain individual owner-operators filed a lawsuit in Missouri federal court against New Prime, Inc. (Prime). The association and these individuals allege that Prime violated the federal truth-in-leasing regulations by unlawfully retaining escrow funds of owner-operators who had leased themselves to Prime. While OOIDA has been content over the past two years to let its dispute with Prime play itself out where it belongs – in the courtroom – the association now feels compelled to respond to misinformation that Prime has lately been spreading about the status of the lawsuit and OOIDA's motivations in filing its action.
In May of this year, Prime began running a question-and-answer feature on its Internet web site regarding recent developments in OOIDA's lawsuit against Prime. Prime's article contains numerous factual inaccuracies. Of these misstatements, the most galling to OOIDA is Prime's contention that the association is not genuinely pursuing its action on behalf of owner-operators hurt by Prime, but rather is "trying to enrich" itself through the lawsuit. This outrageous fabrication could not be further from the truth.
Contrary to what Prime contends, OOIDA does not "stand to reap substantial financial benefits" from the lawsuit against Prime. In fact, under no circumstances can the association share in any monetary recovery received by owner-operators when they prevail in their action against Prime. In its representative status as a party to the lawsuit against Prime, OOIDA seeks only to have the court (1) declare that Prime's leasing practices are unlawful, and (2) order that Prime stop misappropriating owner-operator funds and begin complying with the federal leasing regulations. Any money the court orders Prime to pay will go only to owner-operators who have been victimized by Prime's leasing practices over the past several years. In short, OOIDA is not "in it for the money," but because the association knows that owner-operators probably don't have a chance against motor carriers like Prime unless we are there to back up owner-operators with resources and general support.
Prime also states in its article that the owner-operators who have sued Prime do not represent the majority of drivers leased to Prime, but only the "disgruntled and misinformed" owner-operators who blame Prime for their "lack of success." The lawsuit speaks for itself. If, as plaintiffs contend and strongly believe, Prime's leases flagrantly violate the federal leasing regulations, then owner-operators have been illegally deprived of escrow funds and have every right to be disgruntled over Prime's actions.
Furthermore, Prime's web site completely mischaracterizes the procedural developments in the OOIDA lawsuit to date. Prime would have owner-operators believe that the action somehow has been dismissed twice by the Missouri federal court. While it is true that the court dismissed OOIDA's action against Prime in November 1998, it did so only on procedural grounds and not because of the nature of the claims against Prime. At no point did the court say that owner-operators did not have a legitimate claim about Prime's leasing practices. Instead, it was the Missouri court's opinion that the dispute between owner-operators and Prime belonged before the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) rather than the federal court. When OOIDA asked the FHWA itself whether it wanted to intervene in the dispute, the FHWA published a notice that it would not get involved in private disputes between owner-operators and federally-authorized motor carriers, and such disputes belonged in the federal court. This is the issue that is now on appeal in the federal appellate court. Whether the appellate court decides that OOIDA's dispute with Prime belongs in federal court (as OOIDA believes it will) or before the FHWA, the actual claims against Prime will remain valid and will be resolved.
As it has from the beginning, OOIDA maintains faith that it ultimately will succeed in putting an end to Prime's current leasing practices. Regardless of what carriers like Prime may say, OOIDA's dedication to the cause of professional truckers is stronger today than it has been at any point in the association's 25-year fight for professional truckers' rights. Because of the continuing support and commitment of OOIDA members such as those who are participating in the various legal actions against motor carriers, the association believes that the long history of owner-operator abuse at the hands of unscrupulous motor carriers will eventually come to an end.