Guest post by FreightWaves’ Brian Straight
A long-running lawsuit over leased vehicles appears to be reaching its conclusion. The lawsuit, Roberts, et al. v. C.R. England, Inc., et al, is scheduled for final approval by a judge on July 9, 2019, following a $37.8 million settlement that was reached last month in the class-action suit.
The case centered around C.R. England and its affiliate, Opportunity Leasing, and whether the company engaged in good faith negotiations with lease-operator drivers. First filed in May 2011, the initial plaintiffs, Kenneth McKay and Charles Roberts, alleged that C.R. England, through its Opportunity Leasing program, violated the Utah Truth in Advertising Act, the Utah Business Opportunity Disclosure Act, and the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act, and that England was committing fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty in connection with its lease driver program.
The suit was recognized as a class-action to cover any driver who entered into a vehicle lease agreement with Opportunity Leasing, doing business as Horizon Truck Sales and Leasing, and had an independent contractor operating agreement with C.R. England during the period of May 27, 2007, through January 31, 2017.
Under the terms of the settlement, C.R. England has agreed to treat any unpaid debts to defendants as cancelled. The settlement filing assumes this is equal to about $48 million. The company will also take affirmative steps to inform credit reporting agencies that the debts are no longer collectible and/or cancelled, and it will refrain from actively collecting student tuition debt of class members. Unpaid tuition debt amounts to approximately $13 million, the settlement states.
“We are proud of the opportunity we offered to enterprising people to start and grow their own businesses, much like our founder, C.R. England, did with just one truck. However, we understand that some were not happy with their experience and we hope that this settlement resolves any lingering concerns,” a spokesperson for C.R. England said.
A mediator was used to help reach the final conclusion. McKay and the estate of Charles Roberts will share in a total of $68,500. Attorney fees amount to $16,250,000, and the remainder of the settlement award will be shared with class members.
“If this settlement is approved, all class members will be eligible to receive four-figure cash payments, relief from collection of disputed outstanding debts for truck operations and driving school tuition, and an opportunity for credit and DAC reporting repair,” said C.J. Krawczyk, co-lead attorney for the class.
The initial case alleged that C.R. England and Opportunity fraudulently induced students to enroll in England’s driver training schools by promising the students the choice of employment as a company driver or the ability to “earn a desirable income driving as an independent contractor.”
The reality, the plaintiffs charged, was that company driving jobs were “largely unavailable” and the students were subjected to a “misinformation campaign to convince them to lease trucks from the defendants and become independent contractor drivers affiliated with England” and leasing trucks from Opportunity/Horizon Truck Leasing.