Tuesday, September 22, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
An Alabama trucking firm is asking a federal judge to impose sanctions on Pilot Travel Centers for its failure to disclose critical details about its corporate structure.
In a motion filed late last week in U.S. District Court in Kentucky, lawyers for Wright Travel also asked the federal judge to dismiss the remaining claims in a pending suit over diesel fuel rebates so the transportation firm can pursue the same claims in state court.
Meanwhile three other suits filed against Pilot are headed back to state courts while another already is being pursued in Illinois courts.
The five suits are the only ones remaining in the aftermath of a diesel fuel rebate skimming scheme in which already has cost Pilot, the national truck stop firm, nearly $100 million. Dozens of civil suits were filed following an FBI raid on Pilot's Knoxville headquarters on April 15, 2013.
An affidavit subsequently filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Tenn. described a widespread scheme by Pilot sales executives to cheat truckers out of promised rebates.
In the motion and an accompanying brief filed Thursday in the Kentucky case, Stephen Tunstall, Wright's attorney, said the federal suit should be dismissed without prejudice so that it can be pursued in state court.
In asking that sanctions be imposed, Wright charged that Pilot "intentionally hid the fact that this court does not have diversity jurisdiction."
It was only in early July, the memo continues, that Pilot disclosed for the first time "that it has certain sub-members who were citizens of Alabama and Ohio."
"Pilot wasted Wright's valuable time and resources," the brief states.
As the brief noted, Pilot, despite the July disclosure, has asked the U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapur to retain jurisdiction and keep the case in his Kentucky courtroom.
The three other trucking firms who will be pursuing claims against Pilot in state courts are FST Express, HB Logistics and Dick Lavy Trucking. A suit filed by JF Freight against Pilot is pending in Illinois courts.
Pilot has filed a civil settlement on related charges with the federal government under a $92 million agreement. The travel center giant paid some $84 million to settle a class action suit in federal court in Arkansas by still other trucking firms based on the rebate skimming charges.
Ten former Pilot executives have entered guilty pleas to mail and wire fraud charges stemming from the rebate probe. They await sentencing while the probe continues.