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Breaking the legal log jam

"The defendants here did not substantially comply, nor did they slightly comply. Arctic, behind the shielf of an affiliated company, D and A, absconded with the plaintiffs' escrow funds. Following the ICC's guidance, this court will not let pass abuses or the potential for abuse occasioned by collusion between a carrier and the third party beneficiary of an equipment purchase deduction."

Those were the words of Judge Marbley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in his Aug. 29 decision granting summary judgment in our favor against Arctic Express Inc. and their affiliated equipment leasing company, D & A Associates, Ltd.

This case was filed on June 30, 1997 by OOIDA and three of our members - Carl Harp, Garvin Keith Roberts and Michael Wiese. Cark, Garvin and Mike entered into a truck lease purchase program with Arctic Express affiliate D & A Associates which in turn provided that the equipment with driver enter into a lease contract to haul for Arctic. The leasing provisions challenged in this action involved the illegal withholding of owner-operator escrow funds, specifically a maintenance reserve account that owner-operators were required to contribute to at a rate of 9 cents per mile.

Six days later (on Sep. 4), Judge Marbley issued his written decision granting our Motion for Class Certification to include all owner-operators who had entered into lease purchase contracts with D & A and leased on with Arctic. Current estimates are that this will involve at least 2,000 owner-operators and as much as ten to twenty million dollars in illegally withheld escrow funds. Discovery procedures will not move forward to establish the exact numbers and the damages to be paid.

I have written many times in this column about the significant gains for all truckers (owner-operators and drivers) that I feel can be achieved through the success of these lawsuits against motor carriers who flagrantly violate the leasing regulations (federal law). I have also written about the frustrations of dealing with the extensive delays resulting from the legal maneuvering of opposing motor carrier attorneys to avoid bringing these matters to trail on the merits of the cases. These two significant decisions on the merits of this case and on class certification make the huge investment in time and financial resources all worthwhile by acknowledging the justification of our efforts.

These decisions have established important legal precedents that other courts will consider in cases currently pending as well as those that will be initiated in the future. If not broken, the log jam of legal maneuvering in the courts will at the very least be substantially weaked.

While in the process of writing this editorial, the shocking incident of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has just occurred. The enormity of the tragedy makes the significance of everything else pale in comparison.

I sincerly hope that authorities are able to rapidly identify those responsible for this terrorist atrocity and that quick and decisive justice will be delivered.

Aug/Sept Digital Edition