Tennessee two-step: PA, GA allow former Swift students to use CDLs again

| 11/24/2009

Truckers who saw their Georgia and Pennsylvania CDLs yanked after a mysterious multilevel investigation into a Tennessee driving school have gained a three-month reprieve.

On Tuesday, attorney Philip Fuoco announced he had reached legal settlements with Georgia and Pennsylvania over decisions those states made in late 2008, early 2009 to disqualify more than 1,000 CDLs.

In both Pennsylvania and Georgia, drivers who had their CDLs pulled last winter over concerns of third-party testing at Swift Transportation’s trucking school near Memphis, TN, have 90 days to use the CDLs and be retested.

Both states should be sending notice immediately to affected drivers, Fuoco said.

Fuoco advised truck drivers in both Pennsylvania and Georgia to retest for their CDLs during the next 90 days.

Most importantly for Georgia drivers affected by the case – those drivers can file an appeal of the state’s disqualification of their CDL for 10 days after they receive letters from the state notifying them of their license re-qualification.

“I recommend they ask for an appeal hearing, and then go back and try to get retested,” Fuoco said. “That’s important for the Georgia drivers to know – that they should immediately ask for this hearing.”

For several years, Swift had been granted authority by Tennessee to be a third-party tester for CDLs, and the state even had a licensing office located near the trucking school.

In February 2008, 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; and Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Department of Safety.

Documents were seized, and the investigation reportedly centered on the illegal issuance of CDLs.

Although no charges emerged, in January 2009 Tennessee announced that drivers who obtained a commercial driver’s license through a then unnamed third-party tester in Tennessee between May 2005 and January 2008 may be required to do a complete retest, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety.

After Land Line filed a Freedom of Information Act request, the state revealed the third-party tester was Swift Transportation.

Several states that drivers had moved to, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and others decided to revoke CDL privileges for the former Swift school students.

The CDL debacle has affected at least 5,000 drivers nationally. Many drivers have lost jobs, and others aren’t able to gain access to a truck for retesting in their home state.

Former students at the trucking school filed lawsuits in federal court in Tennessee, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia – each states that had disqualified CDLs from drivers who had obtained their original CDLs at the Tennessee driving school.

A similar suit Fuoco filed against New Jersey lost in federal court earlier this year. Fuoco said New Jersey’s CDL regulation included a provision that allowed for CDL holders to ask for a hearing, but the state didn’t notify drivers of that provision when they mailed the drivers notification that their right to drive commercially was being revoked.

“We argued that New Jersey should have put that in the letter,” Fuoco said. “The federal courts said no.”

Tennessee mailed letters to the approximately 1,300 CDL holders in that state, notifying them their CDLs had been pulled. Those drivers obtained CDLs from the Swift-run CDL testing facility near Memphis, TN, between May 2005 and January 2008, Laura McPherson, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Safety, told Land Line in January.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer