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    Federal Panel Considers Pilot Flying J Venue

    Company wants consolidation issue pushed back until after Nov. 25.

    PORTLAND, Maine -- The federal Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation met Thursday to consider if the lawsuits filed against Pilot Flying J in several districts should be consolidated. The judges sitting on the panel are not expected to issue a ruling for several days.

    The lawsuits stem from allegations of fraud in the company's fuel rebate program. Pilot Flying J reached a proposed settlement with eight plaintiffs last week. The company and those plaintiffs are seeking to defer a consolidation until after Nov. 25, when an Arkansas judge is slated to hold a fairness hearing on the proposed settlement, according to a report by the Knoxville News Sentinel.

    The proposed agreement, which received preliminary approval by U.S. District Judge James M. Moody of the Eastern District of Arkansas, calls for Pilot Flying J to pay the plaintiffs 100 percent of their losses plus 6-percent interest, and to cover all attorney's fees for customers in the class. Pilot Flying J customers have until Oct. 15 to opt out of the class-action settlement.

    Lawyers for plaintiffs not involved in that settlement are pushing for consolidation in a different location. Attorney John Walker, who represents a client outside the deal, described it to the judges as a "surprise settlement" and said many plaintiffs would opt out of it, the news outlet reported.

    Walker also said the settlement gained preliminary approval in Arkansas after a 20-minute hearing, without any prior discovery.

    However, Judge John Heyburn, chairman of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, said there was nothing unusual about the sequence of events. "[The settlement] may or [may] not be approved ultimately, but it's not as though the judge has had a 10-minute hearing then approved this thing," he said.

    U.S. District Judge Marjorie Rendell asked about the possibility of rescinding the remaining cases to Arkansas, but Walker countered by saying a majority of plaintiffs preferred a consolidation in Mississippi.

     

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