UPDATE: State appeals court upholds Marion County ruling against Celadon

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s ruling that Indianapolis-based trucking firm Celadon Group Inc. must pay more than $4 million in a class-action suit filed by drivers over fuel costs.

The appeals court’s opinion, issued Tuesday, upholds a December 2014 ruling by Marion County Superior Court Judge Michael D. Keele. 

Keele had ruled in favor of plaintiffs Charles Wilmoth and Kent Vassey, who originally filed the suit in 2013 on behalf of themselves and nearly 2,500 other owner/operator drivers for Celadon.

The dispute centered on charge cards that Celadon provided drivers for use at Pilot Flying J truck stops. Drivers could use the cards to purchase fuel at the “cash” price, which was usually about 6 cents per gallon less than the “credit” price. Celadon would later deduct that amount from the driver’s pay. 

But, the appeals court opinion says, Pilot Flying J offered a deeper discount to Celadon—cost minus 8 cents per gallon—and Celadon kept the difference between the two prices.

In its ruling, the appeals courts said Celadon’s contract with its drivers was ambiguous as to how much the company could deduct from its drivers’ pay for fuel purchases made at Pilot Flying J.

When consumers use a credit or debit card for purchases, “the consumer reasonably expects that the card issuer will pay the retailer the displayed retail price for the good or goods, not some undisclosed price based on a ‘secret’ agreement between the issuer and retailer,” the appeals court’s opinion said.

Originally, the Marion County Superior Court decision awarded damages of $3.8 million plus $1.7 million pre-judgment interest. That amount was later reduced to $3.3 million, plus pre- and post-judgment interest.

The appeals court unanimously upheld that decision.

Celadon did not respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment Wednesday morning.

But in a public filing Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Celadon said it expects to pay between $4.5 million and $5 million pretax for the settlement, which will not be covered by insurance.

Celadon also said in the filing that it plans to appeal the decision to the Indiana Supreme Court, though it will be up to the court to decide whether or not to accept this appeal.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Richard Shevitz, of the Indianapolis firm Cohen & Malad LLP, said that if the case doesn’t go to the Indiana Supreme Court the nearly 2,500 drivers who are part of the legal class could receive their payments within the next few months.

Individual payments will vary, Shevitz said, depending on how much fuel each driver purchased at Pilot Flying J. Some drivers stand to receive more than $3,000, he said.

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