A counterclaim tactic used by an Ohio-based motor carrier has failed to derail the case of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association vs. Arctic Express.
In early January, a U.S. District Court granted a motion by OOIDA to dismiss all counterclaims sought by Arctic Express Inc. against absent class members – those who are not named individually as plaintiffs – in OOIDA’s suit against the Hilliard, OH, motor carrier.
OOIDA President Jim Johnston said he expected the ruling to have very positive implications for other current and future cases against carriers.
“The counterclaims argument has been a favorite of motor carriers in order to defeat or reduce the recovery of money rightfully owed to owner-operators,” Johnston said. “It is also used to intimidate the courts from certifying cases as class actions with the prospect of a large number of counterclaims that the court would then have to manage.”
OOIDA, with members Carl Harp, Garvin Keith Roberts and Michael Wiese, first filed suit in 1997 against Arctic Express Inc. and its affiliate truck-leasing company, D&A Associates LTD. The suit claimed violations of the federal truth-in-leasing regulations for failure to return escrow accounts after the termination of the owner-operators’ leases.
On Aug. 30, 2001, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley of the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, issued a written summary judgment in OOIDA’s favor. In that ruling, he concluded Arctic Express had violated the federal leasing regulations and “absconded” with the escrow accounts of the owner-operators.
On Sept. 6, 2001, Judge Marbley granted OOIDA’s motion for class certification of the case. This ruling also was later upheld. On July 3, 2002, Arctic then filed for counterclaims against the absent members of the class, which number more than 2,000 owner-operators with as many as 4,700 power units involved.
In his current ruling, Judge Marbley ruled that Arctic’s arguments for counterclaims had already been considered and rejected twice by the court, first when it certified the class and again when it denied Arctic’s motion to reconsider the class certification. Judge Marbley reiterated that the absent members of the class did not constitute an opposing party or litigating adversary and, therefore, the rules for counterclaims were inapplicable.
He also ruled that the counterclaims asserted by Arctic did not meet the federal jurisdiction requirements of minimum monetary amounts or the condition of substantial geographic diversity of the parties in the case.
“We’re very pleased with this ruling.” Johnston added. “It further strengthens OOIDA’s long-held position that class certification is the most effective way for a large number of small-business truckers to act together to protect their rights and interests.”
Damages are still to be determined in the case, as well as a ruling on an OOIDA amended complaint on June 21, 2002, to include Arctic corporate officers Richard Durst and Stephen Russi as defendants, with additional claims against them for breach of fiduciary duty.