SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA remains confident in hurricane relief case

By Coral Beach, staff writer | 12/13/2005

Although a federal judge this week denied a request from truckers who are suing a broker in relation to hurricane relief loads, the legal team representing OOIDA and the truckers said the judge left plenty of room for the drivers to recover all of the money that may be owed to them.

"It was very favorable to the drivers," said OOIDA's General Counsel Paul Cullen Sr., describing the ruling from Judge William T. Hodges in OOIDA's case against Lipsey Mountain Spring Water and 4 Points Logistics.

Cullen said Tuesday, Dec. 13, that the judge's ruling included a strict interpretation of the law, which caused him to deny OOIDA's request that 4 Points be ordered to stop including special paid-in-full endorsements on checks to truckers who hauled water and ice for Hurricane Katrina victims.

If OOIDA and the truckers prove through the course of the pending lawsuit that 4 Points did not act in good faith, the judge left the door open for the full recovery of money due to them, Cullen said.

That money is at the heart of the case, which OOIDA filed on behalf of three small-business truckers in late October. According to the lawsuit, the state of Florida contracted with Lipsey Mountain Spring water for bottled water and ice for Katrina victims.

Lipsey in turn contracted with 4 Points to provide broker services to get the supplies delivered. The truckers contend that 4 Points contracted them for the loads and told them they would be paid $60 an hour for detention time, with no limit on the number of hours of detention pay per day.

However, when 4 Points mailed out checks, the drivers were only paid for 10 hours of detention time out of every 24 hours. According to the lawsuit, truckers were held in staging areas for an average of 10 days after picking up their loads of ice and bottled water.

Several hundred truckers were involved, and the Association has asked the federal court in Ocala, FL, to declare the case a class action, which would mean it would automatically include all of those drivers.

Although the judge denied OOIDA's request that 4 Points be ordered to stop using the so-called paid-in-full endorsements, he did indicate that the truckers could recover money that may be owed to them through the pending lawsuit.

Cullen said that attorneys for 4 Points told the judge that the broker firm was negotiating in good faith with truckers. However, OOIDA has testimony from former 4 Points employees that negates that claim. The former 4 Points employees said 4 Points officials told them to tell truckers that they would receive detention pay for the full 24 hours of each day they were detained.

The employees are also ready to testify that they did indeed tell truckers they would receive $60 per hour, 24 hours a day if they had to wait to deliver the disaster supplies.

"4 Points is trying to create the illusion that they are engaged in settlement negotiations with the drivers," Cullen said. "We have not seen any evidence to that . those checks were issued on a take-it-or-leave-it basis ... That's not much of a negotiation."

Cullen said one of the truckers should have been paid more than $17,000. He got a check for $3,000 and was told that he should take it and be happy with it.

As for 4 Points position on the checks, the firm's Web site has posted a message stating that "4 Points and the motor carriers are permitted to continue to negotiate and resolve and settle their disputes as they see fit."

Cullen said that statement is true, but urged truckers to watch out for themselves. He said if it were him, he would demand full payment and if 4 Points cuts a check for anything less than the contracted amount, he would cash it and wait for the outcome of the pending lawsuit.

The next step in the case is what is called the discovery phase, which amounts to information gathering. Cullen said that he and other attorneys are continuing to interview truckers who hauled for the Lipsey-4 Points deal.

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