Latest decision in OOIDA v. Comerica Bank prolongs longstanding case

By Sandi Soendker, Land Line editor-in-chief | 4/4/2014

For OOIDA and its legal counsel, a truth-in-leasing case that started out against Arctic Express and now involves Comerica Bank has been without question their longest active case. And it’s not over yet.

In 1997, OOIDA, along with member plaintiffs filed a suit against Arctic Express for violating the escrow provisions of the truth-in-leasing regulations. The truckers are represented by The Cullen Law Firm, the Association’s litigation counsel.

The suit was resolved in OOIDA’s favor in 2004 when the court held that Arctic had violated the leasing regulations and ordered the return of the escrows in the amount of $5.5 million. Unfortunately, Arctic declared bankruptcy and was unable to pay most of the settlement.

During the bankruptcy proceedings OOIDA learned of Arctic’s financial arrangement with Comerica Bank and that bank’s receipt of the maintenance escrow funds that it was using to pay down Arctic’s debts to it. OOIDA then sued Comerica on the theory that escrow funds were subject to a statutory trust created under the leasing regulations and that Comerica, as the recipient of trust property, was responsible to the drivers for the escrow funds. OOIDA sought the return of all of the escrow funds from Comerica. 

In March 2011, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed completely with OOIDA on all of the legal issues in the case: that escrow funds were subject to a statutory trust; that those funds were improperly received by Comerica to pay down Arctic’s debt to it; and that, unless barred by the statute of limitations, Comerica was required to return the escrow funds to the drivers.

The appeals court remanded the case to the federal court in Columbus, Ohio, to resolve factual questions surrounding the statute of limitations issue. After a trial on Comerica’s statute of limitations defense, a federal court in Columbus, Ohio, reviewed the facts of the case and on March 20, 2012, ruled in favor of OOIDA, named plaintiffs, and the certified class of owner-operators.

The court awarded the class restitution in the amount of more than $5.5 million. However, Comerica appealed the decision.

On April 2, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth District ruled on the appeal, upholding all of OOIDA’s arguments except one. The appeals court ruled that the district court must “afford Comerica the opportunity to challenge the calculations in determining Comerica’s liability.”

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