Private right of action, 20 years later

By Sandi Soendker, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

In this issue, Associate Editor Greg Grisolano reports on three owner-operators who are alleging breach of contract and violations of the Truth-in-Leasing rules against an Arizona specialty automotive hauler with respect to drivers’ compensation.

These truckers are exercising what is called their “private right of action” and although this case is not an OOIDA lawsuit, here’s why OOIDA can’t help but feel a sense of pride to see it filed. The private right of action is the most important victory in the Association’s history of fighting for the rights of leased owner-operators.

In the mid-1990s, OOIDA was involved in preserving the regulations and in enacting a statutory “private right of action” that allows owner-operators to enforce the Truth-in-Leasing regulations directly in federal court. Prior to the ICC Termination Act effective Jan. 1, 1996, regulatory authorities were completely ineffective in enforcing the leasing regulations. If an owner-operator had a grievance with a carrier over leasing regulations, the owner-operator filed a complaint and then waited, sometimes for years, for the ICC to make a determination.

OOIDA relentlessly and successfully lobbied for a “private right of action” provision to be included in the ICC sunset legislation. It was 20 years ago, but I well remember OOIDA President Jim Johnston was hell-bent to accomplish this. And did.

With private right of action, an owner-operator may sue a carrier for damages arising from the violations of the leasing regulations as well as attorney’s fees. OOIDA hoped that with the very real prospect of owner-operators winning damages and their attorney’s fees in these cases, those unscrupulous carriers who rip off their owner-operators would choose to play by the rules.

When the ICC Termination Act back in 1996 created a private right of action in 49 U.S.C. §14704(a)(2) for violations of the Truth-in-Leasing regulations, it was of course an untried provision. Today it’s firmly established. After 20 years of OOIDA filing case after case over escrow robbery; unfair or unspecified chargebacks; compensation issues; and other leasing abuses, dozens of courts have upheld the private right of action.

The Association has spent millions of dollars to establish this case law, and OOIDA Truth-in-Leasing lawsuits continue to establish a lasting legacy for owner-operators.

It’s gratifying to see the lawsuit, covered on Page 103, and know that the Association’s work in the courts has successfully paved the way for owner-operators to be able to have their day in court. LL