Lease Reimbursement Upheld for CA Truckers

     (CN) – Four truckers who had to trade in their rigs for clean-air models are entitled to a refund of their lease and insurance payments, a California appeals court ruled.
     The named plaintiffs in the case, Romeo Garcia, Eddy Gonzalez, Desiderio Aguilar and Wilmer Urbina, all drove trucks for Seacon Logix from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to warehouses and other facilities.
     Seacon classified the truckers, all of whom used to own their work vehicles, as independent contractors.
     They contend that their employment changed in 2008, however, when the ports barred older, high-emission trucks from accessing the ports as part of a clean-air program.
     Though Seacon bought the truckers new rigs, it continued to treat them as independent contractors. The company required the truckers to lease the vehicles and deducted the lease and insurance payments from their paychecks.
     After they stopped driving for Seacon, the truckers sued for reimbursement of the lease and insurance payments, arguing that they were actually employees, not independent contractors.
     Siding with the drivers, the Los Angeles Superior Court awarded each a specific reimbursement. Aguilar took home $19,884, and Urbina $38,218.
     A three-judge panel with the Second Appellate District affirmed in an order filed July 16 and published July 30.
     The 19-page decision notes that the drivers had to report to work at 7 a.m. each day and were not allowed to take the trucks home. Also, the drivers affixed permanent Seacon stickers on the trucks.
     In addition to signing agreements the leasing of trucks from Seacon, the workers pledged to drive the trucks exclusively for the company.
     “The court determined that this arrangement gave Seacon ‘tremendous control’ over the drivers because if they did not comply with Seacon’s requirements, they would lose their trucks,” Justice Thomas Willhite Jr. wrote for the appellate panel. “The trial court’s conclusions are fully supported by the evidence.”
     Another factor demonstrating that the drivers were Seacon employees was the company’s right to discharge the employees at will, the court found.
     “Here, respondents testified that they were terminated suddenly and with no notice by Seacon – Aguilar on the day he returned from five days off to take care of his son, and Gonzalez upon his return from his mother’s funeral,” Willhite wrote.
     The court likewise concluded that Seacon had forfeited the right to challenge the amounts of the truckers’ damages.
     “Besides failing to raise the issue in the trial court, Seacon has failed in its appellate briefing to provide us with any citation to legal authority that supports its position,” the decision states.

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