(Nov. 22, 2013) Acting swiftly on a request from lawyers for Pilot Flying J, a federal judge has agreed to keep secret a list of trucking companies that have opted out of a proposed $72 million settlement of diesel fuel rebate charges with the Knoxville company accused of cheating them.
In a three-page order, U.S. District Judge James M. Moody granted the motion to seal the list on the same day it was filed. Both the motion and approval were dated Thursday but did not appear on the federal docket system till today.
Moody's quick action comes just before a hearing on the proposed settlement, scheduled for Monday in Moody's Little Rock, Ark. courtroom. The senior judge already has given preliminary approval to the settlement plan.
In its motion, lawyers for Pilot and the other defendants in the class action case argued that the lists should be sealed because they contain "confidential information, including taxpayer identification numbers."
Under Moody's order the list of opt-outs and a separate list showing documentation submitted by those seeking to opt out will be kept from public view.
Aubrey Harwell, one of Pilot's lawyers, said in a telephone interview that it was customary for such lists to be filed under seal.
"There's nothing unusual here," he said, noting that Moody had already issued a general order authorizing parties to request certain filings be kept secret.
Under the settlement proposal, Pilot has promised to repay trucking firms for the amounts that were shaved from promised rebates from 2005 to 2013 plus 6 per cent interest. The package includes up to $14 million in legal fees.
The suits followed a federal raid on Pilot's Knoxville headquarters and the filing of a 120-page affidavit by an FBI agent detailing a scheme by Pilot sales executives to secretly reduce the rebates promised to truckers.
Harwell said the total number of opt-out notices received was 146, but some of those were multiple filings by related companies. He said his count of actual non-duplicate filings was 58.
He said that number represented a very small percentage of the total number of companies involved in the rebate program, which he said was about 5,500.
The Arkansas suit was originally filed by a newly formed company, National Trucking Financial Reclamation Services, which was incorporated by the head of an Arkansas trucking association after the Knoxville raid.
Trucking firms opposed to the settlement offer have charged in court filings that the Arkansas firm does not even qualify to be a member of the class because it was never a customer of Pilot's. National Trucking has said in a statement that it represents the interests of trucking companies who are qualified class members but don't want their involvement in the case made public.
Several other trucking companies later joined as plaintiffs in the suit.
Harwell predicted the Monday hearing would be brief, lasting no more than an hour. Filngs in the case show no opposition.