Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

McAlarnen v. Swift Transportation Company

January 29, 2010

SHAWN MCALARNEN, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SWIFT TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, INC., ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schiller, J.

MEMORANDUM

A mysterious federal raid on the offices of Defendant Swift Transportation Company in Tennessee led to the cancellation of the Commercial Drivers Licenses of a number of commercial truck drivers in Pennsylvania. Shawn McAlarnen filed a class action lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's decision to require those commercial drivers who had been trained at the Swift Driving Academy and had their credentials questioned by the State of Tennessee to retest or have their licenses suspended. The parties have engaged in limited discovery and have reached a settlement that will allow class members to get on the road again. The Court provisionally certified a settlement class and approved the settlement agreement. Notice was sent to Class members and a fairness hearing was conducted on January 25, 2010. Presently before the Court is the uncontested motion for certification of the settlement class, final approval of the settlement agreement, and class counsels' fee petition. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Nature and History of the Litigation

On April 24, 2009, Shawn McAlarnen, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, filed a Complaint against the Swift Transportation Company; Janet Dolan, the Director of the Bureau of Driver Licensing of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation; and David Mitchell, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety. An Amended Complaint was filed on June 18, 2009. Shortly thereafter, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of Commissioner Mitchell and McAlarnen voluntarily dismissed Swift Transportation. Dolan filed a motion to dismiss which the Court denied on August 21, 2009.

Swift Transportation ran the Swift Driving Academy in Tennessee between May 1, 2005 and January 31, 2008. (Am. Compl. ¶ 34.) The Swift Driving Academy provided training to students seeking to obtain a Class A Commercial Driver's License (CDL). (Id. ¶¶ 34-35.) The Tennessee Department of Safety authorized Swift to administer its official CDL test and to issue results and certifications for Tennessee. (Id. ¶ 39.) Federal regulations allow for a CDL holder to transfer his or her license to another state; thus class members issued a valid CDL in Tennessee could obtain a valid CDL from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania without taking another test or being recertified. (Id. ¶¶ 46-48.)

Class members are former students of the Swift Driving Academy. (Id. ¶ 22.) Each Class member passed a Tennessee commercial driver's licensing test administered and certified by Swift Transportation between May 1, 2005 and January 31, 2008. (Id. ¶ 9.) Class members also hold a Pennsylvania CDL based upon their satisfactory test results on the Tennessee exam administered by Swift Transportation. (Id. ¶ 10.)

In February of 2008, federal agents raided both the official State of Tennessee CDL testing office maintained by Swift Transportation and the Swift Driving Academy, although to this day, it remains unclear why. (Id. ¶¶ 50-52, 55-56, 71.) In December of 2008, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety announced that he was retroactively nullifying all CDL test results and certifications issued by Swift between May 1, 2005 and January 31, 2008. (Id. ¶ 62.) The Commissioner also sent a form letter to Dolan stating his opinion that the Swift Transportation CDL testing failed to comply with Tennessee and/or federal regulations. (Id. ¶ 68.) Although Dolan was never informed of the nature of the alleged improprieties, she sent out notices on or about January 7, 2009, to Pennsylvania CDL holders whose tests were administered by Swift Transportation that their CDL's would be revoked unless they re-tested within sixty days. (Id. ¶¶ 69-71, 75.) According to the notices, due to "irregularities in Tennessee's licensing practice . . . and because the testing you completed in Tennessee is no longer valid, PennDOT must require you to take your commercial driving test . . . to maintain a valid CDL." (Mem. in Supp. of Unopposed Mot. to Grant Final Approval to Proposed Class Action Settlement and for Related Relief [Final Approval Mem.] Ex. A [Dolan Notice].) Drivers were required to supply a vehicle to be tested, which was difficult because most of them did not own their own truck and could not rent a truck for a single day. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 96-99.) Dolan did not offer the CDL holders an opportunity for a pre-revocation hearing. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 77-79.) An individual's failure to comply with PennDOT's directive by March 10, 2009 would result in cancellation of that individual's driving privileges. (Dolan Notice.) A subsequent letter from Dolan sent to those who failed to comply with her earlier notice informed them of their right to appeal the cancellation of their CDL. (Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Def. Dolan's Mot. to Dismiss Ex. C [Mar. 11, 2009 Dolan Letter].)

Class members claim a federally recognized property right in their CDLs. (Id. ¶ 106.) The Class asserts that due process demands that CDL holders be informed of the alleged problems with the test and be given "the opportunity for a meaningful hearing prior to the proposed revocation of their Pennsylvania CDL's." (Id. ¶¶ 84, 113, 117, 127) The Amended Complaint sought only injunctive and declaratory relief against Dolan under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Dolan argued in her motion to dismiss that due process did not require a pre-deprivation hearing prior to Dolan's cancellation of the CDLs. Although she conceded that the suspension of an issued license required certain due process protections, Dolan contended that the prompt, post-deprivation hearing offered under Pennsylvania law satisfied those protections. (Dolan Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss at 9, 11-16.) Specifically, because the CDL holders were afforded notice and the chance to re-take the licensing examination, Pennsylvania afforded all the process due to the Class. (Id.) Dolan relied on Tennessee's claims that Swift's testing procedures were suspect and its recommendation that Pennsylvania retest former Swift Driving Academy students who had transferred their CDLs to Pennsylvania. (Id. at 14.) Dolan also claimed that the Eleventh Amendment barred the relief sought by the Class. (Id. at 16-22.)

The Court denied the motion to dismiss and Dolan filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint on September 3, 2009. Dolan denied both the substantive and class allegations in the Complaint. On November 6, 2009, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking preliminary approval of a settlement reached between the putative class and Dolan. The Court granted the motion and notice was distributed to the Class. The parties now seek certification of the Class for settlement purposes, as well as final approval of the settlement. The issues have been fully briefed and the Court conducted a fairness hearing on January 25, 2010.

B. Settlement Agreement

The Settlement Agreement and General Release defines the Class as "All former 'Swift Driving Academy' students who are Pennsylvania CDL holders who, since December 1, 2008, have received a form notice from the Director of the Bureau of Driver Licensing of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation which is similar or identical to Attachment A [to the First Amended Complaint.]" (Amend. to Settlement Agreement Filed Nov. 6, 2009 ¶ 2.) The Settlement Class is comprised of 198 CDL holders. Although the Class is not further divided into subclasses, the Settlement Agreement treats individuals members of the Class differently. The 198 member Class includes: (1) forty-two drivers who voluntarily decertified their CDL; (2) forty-five drivers whose driving privileges have been cancelled; (3) forty-seven drivers who, pursuant to PennDOT's notices to the putative class members, had retested and passed the skills driving retest; (4) forty-seven drivers who, pursuant to PennDOT's notices to the putative class members, failed the retest and were decertified; (5) nine drivers who have, according to PennDOT's records, left Pennsylvania; (6) seven drivers who still need to retest due to previous suspension of their CDLs; and (7) one driver who was not required to retest because he had previously held a Pennsylvania CDL. (Mem. in Supp. of Unopposed Mot. to Grant Prelim. Approval to Proposed Class Action Settlement and for Related Relief Ex. A [Settlement Agreement and General Release] at 4-5.)

Pursuant to the terms of the Settlement Agreement, PennDOT agrees to reinstate, for a period of ninety days and for purposes of taking the retest, the CDLs of the forty-two drivers who voluntarily decertified their CDL and the forty-five drivers whose driving privileges have been cancelled. (Settlement Agreement and General Release at 4-7; Final Approval Mem. at 6-8.)These drivers would have to contact PennDOT to schedule a retest. (Id.)Those seven drivers who still need to retest due to previous suspension of their CDLs would also have their CDLs reinstated for a period of ninety days but are eligible for a retest only if and when they have fully satisfied all outstanding obligations leading to suspension of their CDLs. (Id.) The remaining individual Class members would not be eligible to retest. (Id.)

The Settlement Agreement also sets forth that upon preliminary Court approval, PennDOT would mail, by first class and at its expense, notice to the last known address of each putative class member. (Id. at 6.)The proposed notice set forth how and when putative class members could lodge objections to the proposed agreement. (Final Approval Mem. Ex. B [Summary Notice of Pendency of Class Action and Notice of Hrg. and Proposed Settlement].)

According to the unopposed motion seeking final approval of the settlement, the proposed settlement alleviates a practical obstacle to reinstatement faced by individual members of the class. (Final Approval Mem. at 2.) Dolan's notice provided a short window of time in which to re-take the test and required each driver to supply a truck; many drivers could not meet these requirements because they did not own their own trucks and could not rent a truck for a single day. (Id. (citing Am. Compl. ¶¶ 96-99).) The proposed settlement addressed this by re-instating the cancelled licenses for a time period sufficient to obtain a truck for re-testing if a driver so desired. (Id. at 3.)

PennDOT also agreed to pay "the total, all-inclusive sum of twenty-two thousand five hundred dollars ($22,500.00) to class counsel." (Settlement Agreement and General Release at 8.) In exchange for the promises made by Dolan, the Class would forever release her from any claims arising from her actions giving rise to the litigation. (Id.)

II. CLASS CERTIFICATION

A. Numerosity, Commonality, Typicality, Adequacy of Representation

Although this Court previously granted preliminary approval to a proposed class action settlement, this Court still must make a final determination as to whether to certify the class and grant final approval to the settlement agreement. See In re Gen. Motors Corp. Pick-Up Truck Fuel Tank Prods. Liab. Litig., 55 F.3d 768, 797 (3d Cir. 1995). Thus, this Court must decide whether the requirements of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have been satisfied. Id. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) mandates that four threshold requirements be met for a class to be certified: (1) the class must be so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) there must be questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties must be typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) the representative parties must fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a); see also In re Life USA Holding Inc., 242 F.3d 136, 143 (3d Cir. 2001). The components of this foursome are referred to as numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation.

1. Numerosity

The first requirement for a class action is that "the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable." FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a)(1); see also In re Constar Int'l Inc. Sec. Litig., 585 F.3d 774, 780 (3d Cir. 2009). While no magic number guarantees that the numerosity requirement is satisfied, a class of more than forty is generally considered sufficient. Stewart v. Abraham, 275 F.3d 220, 226-27 (3d Cir. 2001). Here, there are 198 class members, a number which makes joinder impracticable. Accordingly, the numerosity requirement is satisfied.

2. Commonality

The commonality requirement is met when the named plaintiffs share "at least one question of fact or law with the grievances of the prospective class." Id. at 227 (quoting Baby Neal v. Casey, 43 F.3d 48, 56 (3d Cir. 1994)).

The commonality requirement is easily met here. All class members received notice from Dolan that their CDLs were at risk of cancellation based on purported troubles at the Swift Driving Academy, where all class members had taken their exam. Furthermore, all Class members argued that Dolan's action violated their due process rights because she failed to provide them with a pre-revocation ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.