April 17, 2017
Truck Drivers Win Class Action Contract Claim
Celadon Trucking Services, Inc. v. Wilmoth was brought by a class of 2,495 independent contractors who drove trucks for Celadon. Their contracts allowed Celadon to deduct from their compensation the cost of fuel that Celedon advanced. Celedon deducted the price on the pump but paid a lower price to Pilot and Flying J truck stops. The class sued for the difference on a breach of contract claim and won a summary judgment in the trial court for $3,302,923. Celadon appealed, claiming the trial court erred in denying its motion for judgment on the pleadings and granting the class’s motion for summary judgment.
Regarding the motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court rejected Celadon’s position, finding “that the contract is ambiguous with respect to how much Celadon was permitted to deduct from a trucker’s compensation for fuel purchases at Pilot Flying Js.” Having found the contract to be ambiguous, you might think that summary judgment would also be rejected. Not so, summary judgment is still available if “any contract ambiguity can be resolved without a factual determination.” This is such a case.
- An ambiguous contract may still be appropriate for summary judgment for plaintiff.
- The Court of Appeals will not turn a “blind eye” to relevant contractual provisions not mentioned in the trial court when reviewing a contract that is to be considered as a whole.