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Yandle denies class certification in truckers' suit; Says plaintiff's failure to disclose felony conviction 'a problem'

By Record News | Nov 28, 2017

BENTON – U.S. District Judge Staci Yandle denied certification of a class action over the wages of 45 professional drivers, finding their claims large enough to justify individual litigation. 

In a Nov. 27 ruling, she wrote that plaintiff Robert Murphy of Kansas City, Mo., who sued Professional Transportation Inc., estimated damages of $835,373.53. 

She wrote that this amount averaged out to more than $18,000 per driver. 

She wrote that the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act provides attorney’s fees for a successful suit, making individual suits more feasible than in many class actions. 

Murphy didn’t help his case by trying to hide a voluntary manslaughter conviction. 

“Murphy’s failure to disclose his convictions in discovery potentially raises a question regarding his credibility,” Yandle wrote. 

She wrote that the issue might hamper his ability to meet his fiduciary obligations to the class. 

Professional Transportation employed drivers to deliver Union Pacific crews to work sites in the state’s high speed rail project. 

Driver John Garecht sued Professional Transportation in 2014, claiming his work fell within the scope of the Prevailing Wage Act. 

His complaint estimated the class at 300, but the final tally fell far short. 

At a hearing last December, Yandle said, “Are we still looking at 45?” 

Garecht’s lawyer, Joseph Cassell of Wichita, Kan., said yes. 

Yandle said she wasn’t clear where that number came from. 

Cassell said his associate, Terry Smith, filed a declaration. 

Yandle said, “I have some question as to whether or not that is sufficient evidence even for this stage.” 

Professional Transportation counsel Michael Ray of Chicago said, “This case is trying to pound a square peg into a round hole, because we have people who are inherently mobile and this statute is designed to deal with construction sites.” 

Garecht died in January, and Murphy replaced him. 

In August, Ray filed a brief claiming Murphy testified in a deposition that he submitted false information in interrogatory responses. 

He wrote that Murphy stated under oath in his interrogatory responses that he had not been convicted of any felonies. 

Ray wrote that in Murphy’s deposition, he said he breezed through his responses and “just signed my name where I saw my name.” 

When Yandle denied class certification, she still hadn’t seen evidence for the tally of 45 drivers. 

She wrote that Smith’s declaration constituted mere speculation, and the case did not pass the numerosity test for a class action. 

She wrote that Murphy did not pass the test of a class representative’s adequacy. 

Yandle wrote that felony convictions aren’t a bar to representing a class, but failure to disclose them was a problem. 

She also found that individual issues would predominate, because ascertaining damages would require determination of the prevailing wage that applied. 

She wrote that Garecht admitted the wage varied from county to county.          

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U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois