Truckers' lumping case against SuperValu moves forward

| 12/1/2006

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 distributor/retailer.

" . 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