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Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. v. Bulkmatic Transport Co.

August 3, 2007

OWNER-OPERATOR INDEPENDENT, DRIVERS ASSOCIATION, INC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BULKMATIC TRANSPORT COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael T. Mason, United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc., et al. ("plaintiffs") filed a three-count complaint against defendant Bulkmatic Transport Company ("defendant" or "Bulkmatic") pursuant to 49 U.S.C. §§ 14102 and 14704. In their complaint, plaintiffs allege that defendant violated the federal Truth-in-Leasing regulations, 49 C.F.R. Part 376, which govern the leases between defendant and individuals who lease their trucking equipment to defendant. Plaintiffs filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability on Count III. Bulkmatic filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on all three counts of plaintiffs' complaint. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment is granted and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.

BACKGROUND

The Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995, 49 U.S.C. §§ 10101, et seq. ("ICCTA"), transferred the motor carrier regulatory functions previously vested in the Interstate Commerce Commission to the Department of Transportation ("DOT") and the Surface Transportation Board. See 49 U.S.C. § 13501. The federal Truth-in-Leasing regulations ("the regulations"), 49 C.F.R. Part 376, govern the leases between motor carriers and owner-operators of trucks. These regulations were initially promulgated pursuant to 49 U.S.C. §§ 13301 and14102. With the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, Congress transferred to the new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ("FMCSA") all "duties and powers related to motor carriers or motor carrier safety vested in the Secretary [of Transportation] by chapters . . . 133 through 149 . . . ." 49 U.S.C. § 113(f)(1). The Secretary thereby, in relevant part, delegated his authority over the federal leasing regulations to FMCSA. See 49 C.F.R. §§ 1.73(a)(2), (6), (8).

Bulkmatic is a regulated motor carrier that transports property in interstate commerce under authority issued by the DOT. It does so utilizing tractors and driving services leased from owner-operators (i.e., independent truckers). Plaintiff Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. ("OOIDA") is an association, some of whose owner-operator members (including the individual plaintiffs) have leased their trucking equipment, with a driver, to defendant. Defendant has entered into lease agreements with the individual plaintiffs.

In Count I of the complaint, plaintiffs allege that the subject lease agreements do not contain all of the provisions, or the precise wording, required by the applicable leasing regulations. See 49 C.F.R. § 376.12. In Count II of the complaint, they allege that Bulkmatic failed to provide rated freight bills to owner-operators on request, in violation of 49 C.F.R. § 376.12(g). In Count III, plaintiffs allege that Bulkmatic understates its gross revenue before calculating plaintiffs' percentage-of-revenue compensation, thus underpaying them, in violation of 49 C.F.R. § 376.12(d) and (g).

UNDISPUTED FACTS*fn1

Bulkmatic transports various products for third party shippers in bulk tank trailers. Included among the products transported in Bulkmatic tank trailers are food products such as flour, sugar and grain; and non food products such as chemicals and plastics. Bulkmatic owns the tank trailers but sometimes leases tractors and drivers from owner-operators, who drive the freight to its destination.

Each individual plaintiff has entered into a "Lease Agreement" with Bulkmatic under which the owner-operator provides trucking equipment and driving services to Bulkmatic. Bulkmatic uses a standard form Lease Agreement which is materially identical for all owner-operators. Bulkmatic drafts the Lease Agreements.

Each Lease Agreement contains the following provisions:*fn2

LESSOR does hereby lease to LESSEE the following motor vehicle(s) equipment, with or without driver . . . . (Lease A.1).

LESSEE shall pay to LESSOR for the use of said equipment and driver, or for equipment alone, if no driver is being leased, as follows:

XX% of gross revenue*fn3 (Lease D.1).

LESSEE agrees to pay LESSOR said net earnings (less deductions) after LESSOR has submitted the necessary delivery documents. (Lease D.2(a)).

LESSEE shall provide LESSOR with a computerized report verifying rates, gross revenues, and loads used to compute payments to LESSOR hereunder. In addition, LESSEE shall furnish to LESSOR a copy of the rated freight bill upon request. (Lease D.3(b)).

With respect to truck earning [sic], LESSEE shall furnish weekly to LESSOR a cartage sheet which itemizes the total earnings, expenses and deductions. (Lease D.3(c)).

LESSOR agrees to pay all of the operating expenses of the above equipment, including but not limited to:

C All tolls and ferries

C All detention and accessorial charges (Lease E.1, in pertinent part).

LESSOR hereby authorizes LESSEE to deduct from LESSOR's cartage checks covering truck earnings any sums of money that shall be due and owing to LESSEE from LESSOR. The items which may be unilaterally deducted from the LESSOR's settlement check, having been initially paid for by LESSEE and/or its affiliated companies, are as follows, provided that a written explanation and itemization be delivered to LESSOR before any deductions are made:

C Maintenance and repair.

C Preload charges. (Lease F.3 ...


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