A federal court case that could impact virtually every trucker on the road began Monday in Denver as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association began presenting evidence against USIS Commercial Services Inc. - better known to truckers as DAC Services.
The individual truckers involved in the case are Steven Bussone, Dale Stewart, William Meck, Shane Paul, Jeff Mathews and Richard Lee Sisemore. Although OOIDA had sought class-action status for the case so that any rulings would apply to all truckers who are on file in DAC's database, the case was only certified for the six named individuals.
However, OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston said that the Association is not giving up on class-action status.
"The Association's intention is to make this a class-action case and we will certainly, at the appropriate time, be appealing that decision," Johnston said Tuesday.
On Monday, opening statements from the OOIDA and DAC attorneys painted very different pictures for the eight-member jury panel in the courtroom of U.S. 10th District Judge Robert E. Blackburn.
"I come before you to advocate for six truck drivers who have been abused by a peddler of private information," said OOIDA's lead attorney on the case, Randall Herrick-Stare.
Herrick-Stare said that DAC has violated truckers' "prototypical American rights to self-determination and to privacy" by providing inaccurate, incomplete and ambiguous information about truckers' work histories to prospective employers.
Further, Herrick-Stare said that the information was gathered and sold without the truckers' permission. OOIDA contends that the DAC reports violate the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act because the reports are consumer reports and therefore covered by that law.
However, the lawyer representing DAC said the "Termination Record Forms" used to collect and disseminate information about truckers are not covered by the federal law because DAC officials "believe" they are not.
"... DAC never treated this as a consumer report because we believe it is not a consumer report," said DAC's lawyer Larry D. Henry.
Henry then gave the jury a brief history lesson about the trucking industry, which appeared to contradict key points in his case.
Henry said that the founder of DAC, Charles Dees, launched the company in 1981 because motor carriers needed a tool to help them screen prospective drivers' employment and safety records. Then, just 12 paragraphs later - according to a written transcript of his opening statement - Henry said that the DAC forms were never intended to be a "selection or hiring tool."
OOIDA's attorney had already told the jury that DAC not only compiles and sells employment information in the form of inaccurate reports, but that Dees specifically set up the system to avoid driver notice.
"... DAC affirmatively stated in its master user guide, Exhibit 102, and elsewhere that, quote, 'Termination Record Forms can be stored in the database without the permission of the driver, end quote,' " Herrick-Stare said.
Then, Herrick-Stare tried to tell the jury about a January 2002 ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that ordered DAC officials to take measures to assure that those who provide information for its driver reports are using accurate and consistent terms.
The DAC lawyer objected to mention of that case, but Judge Blackburn overruled that objection and allowed OOIDA's attorney to continue. At that point, Herrick-Stare said that DAC's witnesses would prove that the company had failed to meet the orders of the appeals court.
"The testimony from DAC witnesses will be that after the admonitions in (that) case, DAC did nothing to monitor the consistency with which previous employers were using the termination record," Herrick-Stare told the jury.
Later Monday, during routine presentation of exhibits, the DAC lawyer again raised an objection to references to the 2002 ruling ordering DAC to change its ways.
OOIDA's attorney wanted to include the 2002 judges' decision from the appeals court as an exhibit. The DAC lawyer was not pleased.
"We also believe that this could cause, you know, confusion." Henry told the judge in his objection. "We are getting into legal arguments by giving cases to the jury."
The judge decided to take that objection under advisement, along with a handful of other procedural issues, so as not to waste the time of the jury.
The case is expected to run through Labor Day week.
USIS Services, which is an Oklahoma-based company, claims to store employment histories for more than 2,500 motor carrier clients - including 95 percent of the largest 100 motor carriers - with access to more than 4.7 million driver records. Its predecessor, DAC Services, has been a member of the American Trucking Associations since about 1989, and USIS's District of Columbia office was opened in 2002 within the ATA location in DC.
- by Coral Beach, staff editor