Will the Supreme Court decide private right of action?

In a move OOIDA President Jim Johnston characterizes as "delaying the inevitable," Prime will ask the Supreme Court to rule on private right of action. Prime contends that the courts do not have jurisdiction in cases involving owner-operator complaints against motor carriers alleging violations of federal leasing regulations. They insist such matters should be addressed by the Department of Transportation. In August, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (see Sept./Oct. Land Line) ruled against Prime and upheld owner-operators' private right of action.

On Nov. 15, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted Prime's motion to stay the mandate of the court pending the filing of their petition to have the Supreme Court hear the case. Prime has until Feb. 8, 2000, to file its petition. This move effectively puts the OOIDA's case against Prime on hold for several months, though it does not necessarily mean that the high court will hear the case.

According to OOIDA counsel Paul Cullen, Sr., the high court usually takes two to three months to decide whether or not it will hear the case. Statistically, the court only hears about two percent of the appeals it receives, and then usually only those where there has been split decisions in different circuits.

If the Supreme Court declines to hear Prime's appeal, then the case will go back to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. "Then we'll finally have this case heard on its merits," says Johnston. "We're ready to get to the real case - proving that Prime violated federal leasing regulations."

Reefers to ride the rails
First it was rail-mail, now Amtrak is jumping into the reefer business. On Oct. 15, Amtrak signed a long-term contract with Detroit-based firm, ExpressTrak, LLC to provide up to 350 refrigerated cars fitted to move fresh produce and other perishables. The refitted cars will maintain temperatures of minus 20 degrees to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The first of the 350 57-foot refrigerated cars being rebuilt is expected to go into operation in April 2000.

Sharon Winschel, of Red Book Credit Services says, "There's going to be some issues raised on perishables in this move. Like where will they (the cars) drop and will unloading be done in a timely manner? There's no doubt rail can get produce there faster, but can they get it unloaded, that's the question. They'll still have to use trucks."

Amtrak and ExpressTrak set a pilot plan in motion this last February. The first effort involved Sunkist Growers Inc., who signed an agreement to use five cars to ship lemons, oranges and other citrus. According to a business news source, Amtrak officials said they are hoping the new venture would keep Amtrak competitive in the freight business.

The rail agreement comes on the heels of a year in which Amtrak achieved record-breaking growth in the mail and express business.