The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

July 26, 2013

Trucking companies argue against Pilot Flying J settlement

PORTLAND, Maine — A group of trucking companies wants to move ahead with lawsuits against the truck-stop chain owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Attorney John Walker told a panel of federal judges meeting Thursday in Portland that last week’s class-action settlement with Pilot Flying J over fuel rebate fraud claims was a surprise for the companies that weren’t involved in the negotiations.

“Only nine plaintiffs were involved in the settlement out of 18 plaintiffs,” Walker told the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.

Walker said there was no discovery and no testimony before the agreement. He also said the settlement doesn’t stipulate how much money the companies will get. It simply states that trucking companies will be paid what they are owed with interest.

The nine companies that aren’t interested in the settlement want to consolidate their cases instead, Walker said, preferably in Mississippi.

Pilot and the trucking companies that negotiated the settlement have asked the panel to put the other lawsuits on hold.

Attorney Don Barrett represents one of the companies that negotiated the settlement. He argued that consolidation in Mississippi could delay payments to the companies that want to take the settlement, which was given preliminary approval last week by a federal judge in Arkansas.

And he said he doesn’t understand criticisms about the terms of the settlement.

“It’s like some kid writing home from camp saying the food is terrible and we don’t get enough of it,” he told the judges. “The fact is this is a very good settlement.”

The settlement came just three months after federal agents raided the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J. The FBI began investigating the company after an employee claimed the nation’s largest diesel retailer, with annual revenues of around $30 billion, was systematically cheating its clients. Five employees have since pleaded guilty to federal charges.

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