Former Swift trucking school students win court battle

| 7/14/2011

Thousands of former students of a truck driving school operated by Swift Transportation are now eligible to join a lawsuit against the trucking giant.

On July 1, U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald granted class action status to as many as 8,700 former students of a Swift’s driving school. The ruling means the group has the power to combine individual interests for either a settlement or court trial win.

The former trucking school students say Swift’s testing procedures violated state and federal law, and resulted in Tennessee and other states revoking their licenses after an intense multi-agency raid on Swift offices.

In February 2008, the state-certified CDL testing center at a Swift Trucking facility near Memphis was raided by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force; the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general; Secret Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. marshals; Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; Tennessee Highway Patrol; and the Tennessee Department of Safety.

Documents were seized, and the investigation reportedly centered on the illegal issuance of CDLs.

Although no criminal charges emerged, Tennessee announced in 2009 that drivers who obtained a commercial driver’s license through an unnamed third-party tester in Tennessee between May 2005 and January 2008 might be required to do a complete retest, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety.

Until the 2008 raid, Swift had been allowed to be third-party CDL testers and the company housed a state driver’s license station.

Tennessee mailed letters to at least 1,300 CDL holders in that state who obtained their CDLs from the Swift-run CDL testing facility near Memphis, TN, between May 2005 and January 2008. New Jersey, New York, Georgia and Pennsylvania sent out similar letters.

A separate lawsuit filed against Pennsylvania over the Swift CDL issue resulted in a settlement. The settlement allowed truck drivers affected by the Swift ordeal to retake their CDL exams in Pennsylvania.

Tennessee estimated in 2009 that the case affected at least 5,000 truck drivers nationally who were issued CDLs from the third-party tester during that 32-month span.

Out-of-state trucking school students such as Dennis and Francis Wolf obtained Tennessee residence by staying in an area motel for a few weeks before moving back home.

Several deadlines that had been set in preparation for a February 2012 trial date have been vacated until the plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ attorneys can determine which firm will be lead counsel, according to court documents filed in early July.

Swift Spokesman Dave Berry has reportedly said the company will defend itself, saying “our lawyers believe we have solid grounds for an appeal,” according to the Commercial Appeal.