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Brett Green and Lanny Whitson, Individually and On Behalf of All v. Fedex National

December 28, 2011



This cause comes before the Court for consideration of Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. # 70) and Defendant FedEx National LTL, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 85). The parties filed responses in opposition thereto (Docs. ## 73 & 89, respectively). For the reasons below, Plaintiffs' Motion is denied, and FedEx's Motion is granted.

I. Background

In 2006, FedEx took control of Watkins Motor Lines, and Plaintiffs, small business truck owner/operators, entered into an agreement with FedEx to provide shipping services according to certain terms contained in an Equipment Lease and Operating Contract, a form copy of which is attached to the Complaint as Exhibit A (the "Contract"). The Contract, drafted by FedEx, describes the manner in which FedEx, the "CARRIER," would lease, on an as-needed basis, transportation equipment from the individual truck owner, or "CONTRACTOR," and the truck owner would provide transportation services. Under this arrangement, the truck owner would lease its truck to FedEx and provide drivers and other necessary labor to transport, load and unload "such commodities as CARRIER may from time to time make available to CONTRACTOR." (Contr. ¶ 2). Payment was based on the "full and proper performance of each trip." (Contr. ¶ 4). The Contract further specifies that:

[T]his shall not be construed as an agreement by CARRIER to furnish any specific number or types of loads or units, pounds, gallons or any other measurements of weight or volume, quantity, kind or amount of freight, for transport by CONTRACTOR at any particular time or place. (Contr. ¶ 2). Further, the Contract, in a paragraph titled "CONTRACTOR'S DISCRETION," states "As an independent contractor, CONTRACTOR is free to accept or reject assignments from CARRIER." (Contr. ¶ 3). In addition, each truck owner continued to "have the right to perform transportation services for other carriers when not providing such services to CARRIER." (Contr. ¶ 6(e)). Paragraph 6(e), however, goes on to provide that:

In the event CONTRACTOR intends to use Equipment in any non-Carrier use, including trip leasing, CONTRACTOR shall, prior to any such use, on each occasion (1) provide prior written notice to CARRIER of CONTRACTOR's intent to provide such services to another carrier; (2) verify that applicable liability coverage and cargo insurance of such other carrier is in effect to cover operation of CONTRACTOR while providing transportation services to such other carrier; and (3) remove or fully cover all of CARRIER's identification signs, placards, permit markings and other identifying marks. (Contr. ¶ 6(e)). The Contract further requires all written notices made pursuant to the Contract (including written notices of a Contractor's intent to provide service to another carrier) to be delivered in person, or by U.S. certified mail return receipt requested, or, sent by FedEx Express service. (Contr. ¶ 15(c)).

Under the Contract, Plaintiffs were required to pay to FedEx $50.00 per week, per truck, every week until FedEx had collected $700.00 per truck in an escrow security fund that FedEx controlled. (Contr. ¶ 7). The escrow security fund was due to be returned to Plaintiffs no later than 45 days from the termination of the Contract after all credits and deductions pursuant to the Contract were made. (Contr. ¶ 7(d)). In addition, Plaintiffs promised to maintain and to wear FedEx uniforms and photo badges; to maintain their trucks with FedEx signage and permits; and to maintain FedEx monitoring equipment. (Contr. ¶¶ 12, 14; see also ¶ 18(f)). These items remained the property of FedEx and had to be returned to FedEx at termination. (Contr. ¶ 7(d)). The Contract provided that certain terms would survive the termination of the Contract so that FedEx would be protected from responsibility for trucker incurred costs and damages. (Contr. ¶¶ 4(g), 15(b)).

Finally, the Contract's initial term ran through July 31, 2007, with automatic renewal for successive annual terms. The Contract, however, allowed either party to terminate without cause upon 30 days' written notice. (Contr. ¶ 15(a)). This action arises from FedEx's alleged termination of the Contracts without such notice. Count I is a claim for breach of contract for failure to abide by the 30-day notice requirement. Count II alleges a violation of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing. Finally, Count III asserts a claim for a violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act ("FDUTPA").

FedEx now moves for summary judgment as to all three counts, and Plaintiffs move for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability as to the breach of contract claim.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A factual dispute alone is not enough to defeat a properly pled motion for summary judgment; only the existence of a genuine issue of material fact will preclude a grant of summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

An issue is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996) (citing Hairston v. Gainesville Sun Publ'g Co., 9 F.3d 913, 919 (11th Cir. 1993)). A fact is material if it may affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997).

The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial. Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., Inc., 357 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). "When a moving party has discharged its burden, the non-moving party must then 'go beyond the pleadings,' and by its own affidavits, or by 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593-94 (11th Cir. 1995) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324).

If there is a conflict between the parties' allegations or evidence, the non-moving party's evidence is presumed to be true and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party's favor. Shotz v. City of Plantation, Fla., 344 F.3d 1161, 1164 (11th Cir. 2003). If a reasonable fact finder evaluating the evidence could draw more than one inference from the facts, and if that inference introduces a genuine issue of material fact, the court should not grant summary judgment. Samples ex rel. Samples v. City of Atlanta, 846 F.2d 1328, 1330 (11th Cir. 1988) (citing Augusta Iron & Steel Works, Inc. v. Emp'rs Ins. of Wausau, 835 F.2d 855, 856 (11th Cir. 1988)). However, if the non-movant's response ...

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