By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer
Trucking giant Swift Transportation has settled a class action lawsuit brought by many former students of a Swift-operated truck driving school who later had their driving privileges revoked.
Despite the settlement, the nearly five-year long legal battle over 8,000 former truck driving school students isn’t over.
The problems for more than 8,000 truck driving school students began in February 2008, when the state-certified CDL testing center at a Swift Trucking facility near Memphis was raided by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force; the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general; Secret Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. marshals; Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; Tennessee Highway Patrol; and the Tennessee Department of Safety.
Until the raid, Swift had been allowed to be third-party CDL testers. The company housed a state driver’s license station.
Documents were seized, and the investigation reportedly centered on the illegal issuance of CDLs after the Tennessee Department of Safety said CDL skills tests hadn’t been properly administered.
Although no criminal charges emerged, Tennessee announced in 2009 that drivers who obtained a CDL through an unnamed third-party tester in Tennessee between May 2005 and January 2008 would be required to do a complete retest.
Tennessee mailed letters to at least 1,300 CDL holders in that state who obtained their CDLs from the Swift-run CDL testing facility near Memphis between 2005 and 2008. New Jersey, New York, Georgia and Pennsylvania sent similar letters out.
Several drivers were unable to retest in time to obtain a CDL to replace licenses that had been revoked from them after the raid. Former students of the school told Land Line then that several students had traveled to Tennessee from other states in order to enroll in the school and obtain a CDL. Several students obtained CDLs in their home states by exchanging the credentials they’d earned in Tennessee.
The former students combined separate lawsuits to eventually form a class action suit against Swift Transportation – the case that was recently settled for $1.9 million.
It appears only a fraction of the 8,000 students will receive payments related to the case.
Last week, Swift announced through Thomson Reuters that it had settled the class action suit with truck driving school plaintiffs. Swift said it had paid less than 730 class members in the suit. The 730 or fewer plaintiffs had to meet a Nov. 17, 2012, deadline to get payment. Swift also said it had agreed to relinquish unpaid driving school tuition owed by some class members. The Tennessee Department of Safety had issued a formal retraction of public statements related to the 2008 raid and problems with the third party CDL testing of truck drivers.
On its website, the Department of Safety said, “Our department has information indicating that a third party testing company did not administer the skills tests,” and retracted the statement.
“The Department did not conduct an investigation into Swift, into the actions of third-party CDL examiners who were employed by Swift, or into whether the third-party CDL examiners failed to administer the CDL tests in accordance with Tennessee or federal law,” the statement reads. “Therefore, the Department does not make any express findings that Swift Transportation or its employees engaged in activities that caused the CDLs to become invalid.”
Despite the retraction, Tennessee “reaffirms its right to retest drivers who took their CDL skills examination with a third-party CDL examiner,” the TDOS statement reads. “Any Tennessee driver who was required to retest may still have their CDL reinstated by successfully completing the CDL examination.”
The full TDOS statement is available here.
Swift Transportation’s website hadn’t posted a news release about the settlement as of Thursday, but acknowledged the settlement wasn’t finalized after being contested by two plaintiffs, including New Jersey attorney Philip Stephen Fuoco, who represented several former Swift students early in the litigation.
Court documents show two plaintiffs appealed the settlement in part over questions whether a notice mailed to plaintiff class members was “misleading insofar as it informed class members that lead class counsel would not seek any attorneys’ fees from the class when, in fact, the $1.9 million fund, described solely as an attorneys’ fee, was ‘a payment to the class’.”
“The settlement is not an admission of liability and provides expressly that Swift denies the allegations of the lawsuits and denies that it engaged in any wrongdoing or improper conduct,” the statement reads.
At press time, Fuoco has not returned phone calls seeking comment.