Pittsburgh Logistics Systems, Inc. v. B. Keppel Trucking, LLC, 2016 WL 7212509 (Penn. 2016)
When a shipper failed to pay its bills, Pittsburgh didn’t pay Keppel some fifty grand in freight charges, prompting the carrier to exercise the MSCS arbitration clause. Pittsburgh resisted arbitration in a couple lower Pennsylvania state courts, both of which found the arbitration clause enforceable. When an arbitrator awarded Keppel all fifty grand, Pittsburgh took the matter to the Keystone State’s Superior Court, claiming the MCSC didn’t constitute a binding contract whose terms could be enforced.
That court disagreed as well. The absence of all parties’ signatures on a contract isn’t controlling when they intended to be bound by a document’s terms, which Pittsburgh must’ve been, given that its own document actually said as much, and Pittsburgh required Keppel to return the signed MCSC before issuing any payments. The absence of an arbitration clause in the Terms (given they were issued via hyperlink to Keppel after it had already run loads); the fact that the parties didn’t negotiate the Terms; and the parties’ consistent practices demonstrated the Terms weren’t intended to supplant the MCSC.
Owner Operator Lease Agreements’ Arbitration Clauses Are Enforceable Notwithstanding Federal Arbitration Act Exemptions and Motor Carrier’s Early Cancelation of Leases
Alvarado, et al. v. Pacific Motor Trucking, Inc., 2016 WL 7422711 (9th Cir. 2016)
Motor carrier Pacific Motor Trucking entered into owner operator lease agreements with a series of drivers under a program by which the drivers would purchase new trucks. Shortly into the leases, but after the drivers had made substantial financial commitments, Pacific canceled the leases in compliance with a 30-day termination clause. The drivers sued Pacific in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California alleging fraud and breach of contract. The court dismissed the action in favor of Pacific’s exercise of the leases’ arbitration clause. The drivers went up the hill to the Ninth Circuit.
The Court of Appeals affirmed. The drivers urged that the lease agreements, and therefore their arbitration clauses, resulted from fraud in the inducement, and therefore were unenforceable as unconscionable. They believed Pacific misrepresented the leases and collective bargaining agreement as long term, which should constitute fraud. However, as no evidence suggested Pacific knew at the time it entered into the lease that it would terminate the leases early (and, in fact, the unforeseen loss of Pacific’s main customer prompted the termination), there could be no fraud. The drivers also pointed to the Federal Arbitration Act’s preemption for “contracts of employment” for interstate transportation workers, but as owner operator leases aren’t employment contracts, this theory failed as well. Yes, the owner operator business model imposes risks on drivers.
Hall, et al. v. B-H Transfer Company, 2016 WL 6747237 (Ct. Apps. Ga 2016)
A clause in the owner operator lease several drivers had with carrier B-H Transfer allowed B-H to withhold up to $200.00 when drivers failed to complete trips. This violates Truth in Leasing reg 49 CFR §376.12(d) because it lacks specificity as to how deductions would calculated. The actual cost to complete a trip for a delinquent driver was $36.00, and in fact, B-H only deducted $25.00.
Learning of this and other alleged regulatory violations, the drivers sued B-H in litigation that lasted over a decade in Georgia. The Peach State’s high court got the last word when it dismissed the drivers’ claims because, hey, they hadn’t suffered any damages. The Motor Carrier Act allows a private right of action for violation of the Truth in Leasing regs, but not as a mechanism simply to enforce them, but rather when damages actually are sustained. Moreover, nothing suggested the drivers would have refused to lease to B-H had the deductions been properly disclosed.
Coyote Logistics v. All Way Transport v. GN Trucking, 2016 WL 7212487 (N.D. Ill. 2016)
Broker Coyote booked transit of a load of deli meats from Baltimore to Harmony, Pennsylvania with All Way Transport, which claimed it was another broker. All Way, in turn, booked the shipment with motor carrier GN Trucking. The cargo was destroyed in transit due to improper temperature maintenance to the tune of 88 grand. Subrogated Coyote sued All Way in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. All Way impleaded GN Trucking in a third-party action alleging breach of contract.
GN Trucking moved under FRCP 12(b)(6) to dismiss the breach of contract claim, asserting Carmack preemption. All Way responded arguing it was a broker which could seek indemnity from GN Trucking for its liability to Coyote. The Court found the record too incomplete to rule. If All Way is a broker, and is suing in its own name for its own damages (as opposed to an assignment-based claim), then its contract cause of action may not be preempted. All Way gets a chance to prove the role it played before the court can rule.
Sayles v. Knight Transportation Co., 2016 WL 7053117 (E.D. Mo. 2016)
The monikers here are a bit confusing, but apparently, carrier Sayles entered into a “Transportation Brokerage Agreement” with motor carrier Knight Transportation whereby Sayles would provide contract carriage services to Knight, and Sayles was required to obtain its own insurance. The Transportation Brokerage Agreement contained an Arizona forum selection clause. Sayles later requested Knight’s assistance obtaining insurance, so Knight referred Sayles to its insurance broker. The relationship didn’t work out (details aren’t in the opinion), Knight canceled the Transportation Brokerage Agreement, and Sayles sued Knight in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri alleging a variety of contract and tort claims.
Knight moved to transfer venue to Arizona under the forum selection clause. Finding the arbitration clause fully enforceable, the court granted the motion. Yes, the tort claims, too. When tort claims (1) depend on the relationship created by contract; (2) require interpretation of the contract to resolve; and (3) involve the same operative facts as a contract claim, they get tacked on for forum selection purposes. Apparently, the insurance coverage issue was at the heart of the parties’ dispute, so the elements are all satisfied.
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