More than 10 years after the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association initiated a full-scale legal battle with the Tennessee Public Service Commission (PSC) and PSC Chairman Keith Bissell over truckers' rights, the association's perseverance has paid off. On July 17, the state of Tennessee issued a check to OOIDA in the amount of $583,700, representing attorney fees and costs awarded when OOIDA emerged the winner in the landmark lawsuit.
OOIDA's lawsuit, filed in March 1990, was prompted by discriminatory abuse of out-of-state truckers and touched off a chain of events that culminated in the abolishment of the Tennessee PSC. After a lengthy legal process and an 11-day trial, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Echols ruled in 1994 that Bissell had illegally discriminated against truckdrivers who refused to pay a political contribution to his campaign war chest. Evidence presented by OOIDA during the trial prompted the Federal Highway Administration to withhold federal funding and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to launch their own fact-finding mission. Shocked by the corruption found, the state legislature went on to completely abolish the PSC in 1995.
1997, the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit voided the injunction won by OOIDA, stating that it was "too vague," but did not void Echols' declaration that the truckers' rights had been violated. The 6th Circuit instructed Echols to consider whether the injunction was still needed since Bissell was no longer a commissioner. Echols, in his second ruling, agreed with the appellate court that the injunction was "unnecessary," but found that OOIDA was still the "prevailing party" and deserved to be awarded partial payment for legal costs OOIDA incurred in the lawsuit against the PSC.
Since payment was first ordered in 1994, there remains the question of interest and the attorneys' fees incurred during the appeal of the original attorneys' fees awards. OOIDA's attorneys are currently preparing to negotiate with the state on that amount. The association will be represented by The Cullen Law Firm, Washington, DC, and Blackburn & McCune, Nashville.
OOIDA President Jim Johnston says the money will go to the association's litigation fund to assist in the funding of other legal actions directed at protecting the rights of professional truckers.