Immediate action from judge advances OOIDA case against BTT

By Coral Beach, staff writer | 2/16/2006

In an unusual move recently, a federal judge took immediate action and granted an OOIDA request from the bench, allowing the Association to represent 6,000 truckers in a class-action lawsuit against Bridge Terminal Transport.

OOIDA and seven truckers filed the suit in June 2004, claiming that the carrier is violating federal law with its lease agreements – in particular, the leases did not include compensation terms. The Association asked the U.S. District Court in New Jersey to certify the case as a class action so OOIDA and the seven truckers could represent more than 6,000 truckers who are and have been in similar situations with BTT leases since June of 2000.

At a hearing Jan. 31, Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh stunned virtually everyone in the courtroom immediately following oral arguments from OOIDA and BTT lawyers by ruling on the spot and granting the Association’s motion for class certification.

OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston said the instantaneous ruling was a welcome contrast to the months of waiting the Association often faces in its legal actions against motor carriers.

“I think it shows OOIDA and its legal team has established an impressive list of case precedents in the courts where the appropriateness of class certification is involved,” Johnston said.

David Cohen, the attorney handling the case for OOIDA, agreed that the ruling was not typical.

“Typically the judge takes such a matter under advisement,” Cohen said, adding that a bench ruling of this nature is very unusual.

Now, all truckers who were leased to BTT beginning in June 2000 and continuing through the trial are considered members of the class. Cohen said that could easily be 6,000 truckers.

Those truckers – as with all of OOIDA’s class actions – do not need to take any action to be included in the case. Notices will be sent to all class members and those who do not want to be included will have to opt out.

A pre-trial conference with the judge in the BTT case is set April 21 and Cohen said the OOIDA legal team would push for a trial as early as this summer.

Bridge Terminal Transport is one of the largest transportation companies in the world. It has 37 terminals in the U.S. and Canada, mostly at ports.

In addition to BTT’s leases lacking the federally required documentation for terms of compensation, OOIDA’s lawsuit contends that the carrier also owes truckers money for unlawful chargebacks in relation to administrative fees for Comdata services. OOIDA’s suit also challenges BTT’s handling of truckers’ escrow funds.

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