Truckers ask judge to intervene with broker's checks

By Coral Beach, staff writer | 12/8/2005

Attorneys representing truckers who hauled emergency water and ice for Hurricane Katrina victims were in federal court in Florida this week asking a judge to intervene to protect the drivers’ cash flow.

During a hearing Tuesday, Dec. 6, OOIDA’s General Counsel Paul Cullen Sr. presented an affidavit from a woman who was working for the broker involved in the deal. She said that officials at 4 Points Logistics told her to tell truckers they would be paid $60 per hour, 24 hours a day for detention time.

However, when 4 Points mailed out checks, the drivers were only paid for 10 hours’ 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.

The detention pay discrepancy is at the heart of the case, which OOIDA filed Oct. 26 on behalf of three small-business truckers. The Association has asked the federal court in Ocala, FL, to declare the case a class action, which would mean it would include several hundred more truckers.

In addition to sending truckers checks for less than the contracted amount, 4 Points Logistics added a special endorsement line to the checks. The endorsements say if the checks are cashed, the truckers are agreeing that they have been paid in full.

At this week’s hearing, Cullen, of the Cullen Law Firm in Washington, DC, traveled to Florida and asked that 4 Points be ordered to stop using the endorsement line. OOIDA and the truckers also asked Federal Judge William T. Hodges to stop 4 Points from enforcing the endorsement on checks that truckers may have already cashed.

Cullen said Thursday that he hopes the judge will issue a ruling on the endorsements within the next two weeks. He said cash flow and the survival of small-business truckers is key to the legal issue at hand.

“It was a difficult motion and there is a very high standard,” Cullen said, explaining that the defendants made a routine legal argument that the federal court should not intervene because the truckers could pursue the matter through other means and receive damages.

The problem with that argument, Cullen said he told the judge, is that the truckers would be “irreparably harmed.”

“In our case of drivers having to wait two or three years for damages, they would be irreparably harmed,” Cullen said.

Cullen said he explained to the judge – with the help of an affidavit from OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston – that many of the hundreds of truckers involved could go “belly up” if they had to wait that long, because their cash flow is so tight.

In addition to the truckers’ cash flow issues, Cullen said he also told the judge that the public’s interest is also at issue in the case.

He said this case – which also names Lipsey Mountain Spring Water as a defendant because it was the firm that contracted with the state of Florida for the water and ice and then hired 4 Points to broker the loads – gives the judge the opportunity to resolve some of the problems that remain in the public’s mind regarding disaster relief after the hurricane.

“This is a chance for the court to clear up some of the problems … so if, God forbid, another hurricane comes to the Gulf next August there will be truckers willing to come help,” Cullen said Thursday.

Cullen said that the judge asked if there wasn’t a conflict of interest in the case because some truckers want to cash the checks now and others are willing to wait until the detention pay issue is resolved.

“Does the fact that people are hollering ‘Uncle’ at different points mean there is a conflict?” Cullen said he asked the judge.

The attorney said it is a classic example of the bully twisting someone’s arm on the playground. Some people have a higher threshold for pain and can wait longer to say “Uncle.” In this case, he said, many of the truckers have bills to pay and their cash flow threshold has some of them hollering.

Copyright © OOIDA