A federal court in Minnesota is considering whether to toss out one of the defenses SuperValu is trying to use
against truckers who have filed a lawsuit alleging that they were forced to pay
lumping fees in violation of federal law.
Tuesday, Nov. 28, attorneys for
both sides were in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis for a hearing before
Magistrate Judge Jeanne J.Graham on a handful of motions in the case,
which was filed against the national grocery distributor/retailer in December
2005 by OOIDA and two truckers.
The truckers and the
Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association contend that a SuperValu policy
in effect for about nine months in 2005 violated federal law because it
required truck owners and operators to pay for lumping services.
The individual truckers and
OOIDA have asked that the case be certified as a class action to include all
owners and operators in interstate commerce who delivered goods to SuperValu
after March 28, 2005, and were required by SuperValu's policy to accept and pay
for assistance in unloading their trucks.
One defense used by the
Minnesota-based SuperValu is an allegation that the truckers failed to
discharge their duty to minimize their damages.OOIDA's legal team from
The Cullen Law Firm in Washington, DC, has asked the court to reject the
defense as not appropriate for a case that does not seek damages. The complaint
seeks an order requiring Supervalu to reimburse truckers for the lumper fees
they were required to pay, not compensation for trucker injuries.
After the hearing Tuesday, the
magistrate judge took that request under advisement.
OOIDA is also asking the court
to order SuperValu to discontinue its illegal lumping practices.
Also on Tuesday the court heardOOIDA's request toadd two more truckers as plaintiffs. The court
OK'd adding one, but denied the second. The refusal to allow the second to join
the suit was not a comment on the
merits of his claims nor his status as a potential class member.
Still pending before the court is
the truckers'"motion for partial summary judgment." It contends that
SuperValu's proof of insurance policy violated federal law by effectively
requiring truckers to use lumpers at their own cost. The motion asks the court
to declare that the Supervalu policy violated the law.
"The unloading statute prohibits
a receiver from requiring an owner or operator to employ and pay for lumping
services," states the truckers' motion against the national grocery
" . SuperValu's policy requiring
proof of substantially more insurance than the statutory minimum resulted in a
requirement by SuperValu for drivers to hire the lumping service in violation
of 49 U.S.C. Section 14103 (a) and (b)."
OOIDA President and CEO Jim
Johnston has said that the case could have far-reaching impact.
"It's important to recognize
that a victory in this case will benefit not only the truckers who were
actually charged the unloading fees, but all truckers because of the clear
signal it will send throughout the industry that these types of abuses will no
longer be tolerated," Johnston said.
Even if the direct impact of the
case is limited to owners and operators who paid to have freight unloaded at
Supervalu docks, it may includeseveral thousand owners and operators
and several million dollars.
According to its Web site,
SuperValu's "nationwide network" of distribution centers includes 2,500 retail
stores. The company's purchase of the Albertson's chain of grocery stores this
year makes it the third-largest player in the retail grocery business.
- By Coral Beach, staff editor