Owner-operators lose lawsuit alleging breach of contract payments

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Owner-operators involved in a legal battle have learned a hard lesson in reading the fine print in lease agreements. This week, the truckers lost a class action lawsuit alleging two trucking companies underpaid them.

The owner-operators claimed the companies calculated two line haul charges: one for the customer and one for the truck driver, with the latter being significantly less.

For owner-operators hired by Atlas Van Lines and Ace World Wide Moving and Storage, it’s been a nearly four-year battle. The truckers tried to recoup money owed to them after the companies allegedly knowingly and unlawfully reduced and intentionally miscalculated compensation, according to a federal complaint initially filed on May 14, 2013.

According to the lease agreement, owner-operators were to be paid based on a fixed percentage (58 percent) of the line haul and accessorial service charges. On one settlement sheet in the complaint, a driver received $3,858.33 for the line haul, which was 58 percent of $6,652.29. However, the line haul price for the customer was quoted at $7,416.79, a difference of $443.41 for the driver.

The lawsuit claims the companies applied undisclosed additional deductions or discounts, which were not identified in the lease agreements, to the actual line haul and accessorial service charges. Drivers also claimed they were not paid sufficiently for fuel surcharges.

On April 20, a federal judge ruled in favor of the trucking companies due to a specific provision within the contract:

“Financial entries made by [Agent] on payment documents shall be conclusively presumed correct and final if not disputed by Contractor within 30 days after distribution. On the date 30 days after distribution, such documents shall constitute the primary business record between [Agent] and the Contractor with respect to financial transactions existing between the parties as reflected on the statements, and additional underlying documentation, in support of the documents, shall not be required as a matter of proof before any administrative or judicial tribunal.”

Since the original plaintiff did not dispute the inconsistencies within the 30 days clearly laid out in the contract, the court concluded there was no breach of contract.

“Retrospective buyer’s remorse is not a legitimate basis to relieve a party from the terms of a clear contract that he or she has signed,” the judge’s opinion quoted from a separate, relevant case.

Regardless of the time frame, the court further supported its summary judgment by pointing out the contract clearly states the terms of payments in the “Payments to Contractor” provision which says “line haul and accessorial charges shall be determined by applying the applicable effective or predetermined effective bottom line discount (determined under Atlas’ rules) to the transportation and accessorial charges of each shipment.”

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