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Long v. Commercial Carriers

June 16, 1995






Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 90 C 4803--W. Thomas Rosemond, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

Before CUDAHY, ESCHBACH and COFFEY, Circuit Judges.

CUDAHY, Circuit Judge.



Dale Long (Long) is a former truck driver for Commercial Carriers Inc. (CCI). Long contested the lease agreement governing his employment with CCI on the grounds that it violated Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) regulations. He refused to sign a revised lease for the same reason. Because he refused to sign the proffered leases and could not continue to drive without an existing lease agreement, CCI fired Long. In response, Long filed this claim of retaliatory discharge. The Magistrate Judge found that Long did not state a viable claim for retaliatory discharge under Illinois law. We affirm.


CCI is a Michigan trucking business engaged in transporting automobiles and trucks. As a member of the trucking industry, CCI is regulated by the ICC. Under ICC regulations, carriers must receive certification to engage in commercial interstate motor transport. Rather than apply for such certification, small operators lease their equipment and services to larger, certified carriers like CCI. Long is one such owner-operator. He owns his tractor and has leased it and his services as a driver to CCI since 1984.

Lease agreements between owner-operators and their employers are governed by the ICC. Since at least 1984, Long and all other owner-operators at CCI's West Chicago terminal worked under the same lease agreement. However, in 1987 Long and other owner-operators complained to the ICC that CCI was taking unauthorized deductions from their paychecks and that their lease agreement did not comply with ICC regulations. As a result of this complaint, CCI entered into a settlement agreement with the ICC, agreeing to revise its equipment leases to comply with ICC regulations.

Pursuant to this settlement agreement, CCI announced that it was canceling its existing leases and that owner-operators who wanted to keep driving for CCI would have to sign a new, revised lease (the first revised lease) by December 31, 1988. Long and other owner-operators complained again, asserting that the first revised lease still contained violations of ICC regulations. On November 22, 1988, the ICC notified CCI that the first revised lease did not comply with either leasing regulations or the consent agreement. R.O.A., Exh. 8. Nevertheless, CCI continued to represent to its owner-operators that the first revised lease had been approved by the ICC. R.O.A., Exh. 13, 14 (Letters of November 22, 1988, and December 1, 1988). The ICC sent CCI a more detailed letter on December 29, 1988, spelling out the specific violations in the first revised lease and demanding that CCI correct any misrepresentations that the ICC had approved the first revised lease. R.O.A., Exh. 9.

Long and other owner-operators refused to sign the first revised lease because of its continued violations. However, ICC regulations also require that owner-operators have a valid lease in effect in order to drive. Thus, on January 1, 1989, Long and the other owner-operators who had not signed the first revised lease were put on what CCI termed "voluntary equipment layoff." Long has received no salary or benefits from CCI since January 1, 1989. All the owner-operators except Long eventually signed the first revised lease, despite the fact that its regulatory violations were still not resolved. Long refused to sign, citing his objection to the violations in the lease.

Even after it was signed by all the owner-operators except Long and put into effect, the first revised lease still contained violations. CCI continued to negotiate changes to the lease with the owner-operators and the ICC. In April, 1989, CCI entered into yet another settlement agreement with the ICC, paid a fine for its violations, and issued a new, revised lease (the second revised lease) to replace the first revised lease. CCI asserts that it mailed the second revised lease to each owner-operator at his or her home. Long claims that he never received this mailing. However, Long did receive a registered letter from CCI on May 19, 1989, after the deadline for signing the second revised lease. The letter informed him that his decision not to sign a new lease constituted a "voluntary quit" and that the company was removing him from the seniority list. Arb. Op. at 4.

Long now brings this action for retaliatory discharge, claiming that CCI fired him for protesting the lease violations. The Magistrate Judge granted summary judgment for CCI, finding that Long had not presented sufficient evidence of the breach of a ...

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