A shipping company facing a federal lawsuit over claims it underpays its contracted owner-operators must release detailed contracts to the plaintiffs suing it, after a federal judge indicated she was unconvinced by the company’s arguments that producing the documents would create an undue burden.
Plaintiff Thomas Mervyn is suing Atlas Van Lines, Inc., and Ace World Wide Moving & Storage Co., Inc. Mervyn, an independent owner of moving trucks who leases trucks to Atlas, has claimed the company underpays owner-operators like him. According to court documents, under Mervyn’s contract, he receives a percentage of the revenue from each shipment. When Atlas provides customers a discount, it reduces the amount owner-operators are paid. Mervyn has requested class action status for the suit.
The court previously denied the class action certification, but kept open the possibility to revive the motion upon further discovery. In his second set of document requests, Mervyn requested all leases between Atlas and owner-operators between May 2009 and May 2013. He also asked for specific data about the shipments during that time period in “usable electronic format.” In response to the request, Atlas produced 18 redacted leases, out of the roughly 5,300 or more that meet the criteria of the request.
On Oct. 23, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox rejected Atlas’ claim that the 18 contracts provide a sufficient sample to prove that all lease agreements are too different to support class certification. If that is truly the case, Cox wrote, “providing several thousand contracts with distinct terms would almost certainly be the most surefire way to defeat class certification.”
“Plaintiff certainly requires a wider, less ‘cherry-picked’ swath of documents in order to determine whether there is sufficient commonality among the owner-operators,” she wrote.
Atlas had claimed providing the lease agreements would be burdensome because of the work involved in redacting all of the names, which it said is necessary to prevent Mervyn from “misusing” the information. The court replied that there is no evidence Mervyn would misuse the information – and a protective order in the case would prohibit it anyway – so there is no reason to redact the names.
The court was also not impressed by Atlas’ argument that reviewing the more than 5,000 electronic and hard copy contracts it has on file to determine which ones are relevant was unduly burdensome. In her response, Cox noted that review of these documents is crucial for both the plaintiff and the court to determine whether a class action is appropriate.
“Atlas has not provided any cost or time estimates, and without more, the idea that several thousand documents may have to be reviewed … does not strike this Court as beyond the pale, particularly given the size and complexity of this suit,” the judge wrote.
Atlas attempted to avoid the request for shipping data by arguing that the data is not maintained in the format requested, and in order to pull it, Atlas would have to write and run a script to generate an entirely new document.
Again, the court disagreed that such an undertaking would be an undue burden. Cox noted that querying an existing database to produce a report is not the same as creating a document for the sole purpose of discovery. She also said the two to three weeks Atlas says it would take to collect the data is not an unreasonable amount of time to produce evidence.
Cox gave Atlas until Nov. 23 to produce both the shipping data and the full body of unredacted contracts.
Mervyn is represented in the action by attorneys with the firms of Miller Law, of Chicago; Rosenfeld, Rotenberg, Hafront & Shapiro, of Chicago; McNamara & Evans, of Springfield; and Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, of Woodbridge, N.J.
Atlas is defended by the firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, of Chicago.