Swift trucking school lawsuit over CDLs scheduled for September trial

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 1/5/2012

Gary Grant didn’t know his CDL had been suspended in 2008 until he’d driven on it for several weeks.

It was how he discovered the license had been suspended, however, that was so shocking.

A state trooper told him on the side of the road.

Because Hurricane Katrina destroyed his Mississippi home and he hadn’t updated his address information, Grant never got notice from the Mississippi DMV that his license had been suspended.

“I didn’t know,” Grant said.

Grant and 8,743 other former students of a trucking school operated by Swift Trucking near Memphis are part of a class action lawsuit against the trucking giant. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in September.

Beginning in 2008, thousands of former students who obtained their CDL at the trucking school were notified that their CDLs were being revoked and they’d need to retest.

Bill Burns, an attorney with Memphis-based Watson & Burns, LLC – the law firm that filed the civil suit – said the firm is seeking $4,050 and other damages per plaintiff in the civil suit. Such an award would be enough to repay the trucking school tuition of all of the nearly 9,000 drivers affected by the CDL scandal.

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; U.S. Secret Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. Marshals Service; 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 CDL through an unnamed third-party tester in Tennessee between May 2005 and January 2008 might be required to do a complete retest.

Until the 2008 raid, Swift had been allowed to be third-party CDL testers. 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 between 2005 and 2008. New Jersey, New York, Georgia and Pennsylvania sent similar letters out.

Plaintiffs Dennis and Francis Wolf, students who traveled from out-of-state to attend the trucking school, obtained in-state residence by staying in an area motel for a few weeks before moving back home from Tennessee.

Swift Spokesman Dave Berry has repeatedly said the company will defend itself.

Any driver who is eligible to be a plaintiff should be notified through their state DMV, Burns told Land Line Magazine, and no one has to sign up to be eligible.

“There is no statute of limitations problem for anybody,” Burns said. “If a truck driver does nothing at all, at some point they should hopefully hear about the suit through the mail.”

Burns encouraged anyone who believes they are eligible plaintiffs to make sure their address information is correct through their local DMV office.

Some potential plaintiffs have opted out and hired their own attorney to file suit, Burns said.

“If someone lost a truck, or had a year’s worth of lost wages – they may want to opt out and hire their own attorney,” Burns said. “But we probably won’t have a lot of opt outs; that’s my guess. You just never know.”

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