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CLEVELAND -- Attorneys for one of the several trucking companies suing Pilot Flying J over alleged fuel rebate fraud are pushing to have the multiple federal lawsuits consolidated and handled in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, according to a report by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In a request filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, attorneys for Ohio Auto Delivery Inc. of Grove City, Ohio, cited the court's expertise in handling such complex cases, its accessibility and the technology in its courtrooms as the reasons why the cases should be transferred there.
"It offers the best combination of accessibility, expertise and efficiency," the request stated. The attorneys went on to argue that the Cleveland district court "will most effectively promote the just and efficient conduct of these related actions." They cited seven cases from across the country that were consolidated and handled by judges in Cleveland, the news outlet reported.
The panel, which selects the judge or judges to handle proceedings of similar cases that are filed across the country, is expected to consider the request in July. The reasons for a transfer or centralization process are to prevent the duplication of filings and inconsistent pretrial rulings and to conserve the resources of the parties.
As CSNews Online previously reported, at least a dozen lawsuits have been filed against Pilot Flying J since the FBI and Internal Revenue Service raided its company headquarters on April 15. The raid stemmed from a two-year investigation into the company's fuel rebate program.
Ohio Auto Delivery filed its class-action lawsuit against the Knoxville, Tenn.-based truck stop operator late last week in U.S. District Court in Toledo, Ohio. Like many of the other suits, the 19-page complaint charges that Pilot Flying J defrauded the trucking company since at least 2005.
On May 29, two Pilot Flying J employees entered guilty pleas in connection with the criminal probe. Regional Sales Director Arnold Ralenkotter pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud, while Regional Accounts Representative Ashley Smith Judd pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Legal experts expect more criminal charges to be filed against company executives.
Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam has consistently denied any knowledge of wrongdoing.
In reply to Ohio Auto Delivery's request, the attorneys representing Mississippi truck driver Bruce Taylor filed a response with the court saying they agree the cases must be consolidated, but they want the matter to be handled in Jackson, Miss., rather than Cleveland. Taylor of Holmes County, Miss., filed his federal class-action suit in the U.S. Southern District of Mississippi on April 25.
Taylor's attorneys said the Mississippi court's caseload is manageable and noted that the court's judges move cases quickly through the justice system. "Docket conditions, therefore, favor transfer of this [case] to the Southern District of Mississippi," the response stated.
Pilot Flying J is a family-owned business that operates more than 650 retail locations and is the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in North America.