(WBIR-Knoxville) Thursday afternoon a Knox County judge ordered a lawsuit against Pilot to move ahead that could potentially force the fuel company to turn over its financial records.
Pilot had asked the judge to put all lawsuits on hold until at least late-November when an Arkansas court is set to approve or reject a class action settlement deal the fuel company negotiated to repay customers short-changed by rebate fraud.
The plaintiffs in the Knox County case are opting out of any settlement and have argued their case should be allowed to proceed. The suing lawyers represent five trucking companies and were the first group to file a lawsuit against Pilot. That suit was filed April 22, but to this point they said Pilot has completely ignored their complaint.
"We've made various requests and I got nothing," said Drew McElroy, a Knoxville attorney.
The suing attorneys argued Pilot should have to respond to the complaint and also allow discovery. That discovery process would force Pilot to open its financial records and allow the suing lawyers to interview top executives such as CEO Jimmy Haslam on what they knew about rebate fraud within the company.
Pilot's lawyers contend the outcome of the class action settlement agreement will determine exactly how much it should have to divulge in the Knox County lawsuit. For example, Pilot attorneys argued it should not have to turn over years of financial records unrelated to the five trucking companies if all of its other customers take the settlement deal.
The suing lawyers offered a rebuttal that said delaying their discovery would be detrimental to their case because people forget details over time. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that in November the Arkansas court will actually render a decision on the class action settlement.
"Three months from now, all any of are going to be is three months older.
We're opting out, we want to move forward, we'd like to have the
documents," said McElroy.
Judge Harold Wimberly decided to move the case ahead, but not entirely. He ordered Pilot to at least respond to the filed complaints by August 30. By examining the response, the two parties will officially be able to establish in writing what they are fighting over.
Wimberly did not force Pilot to comply with the discovery request as of yet. He scheduled a conference for all parties to meet on September 9 to discuss the options for discovery in more detail.
"We want to nail down Pilot Flying J about the extent of their culpability and the breadth and depth of their knowledge when they were victimizing our clients and others," said Mark Tate, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys. "We want to go about assembling the admissible evidence to go to trial."
Pilot's lawyers did not say anything after court, but the company issued a statement Thursday afternoon through a spokesperson that said, "The judge heard arguments today and took discovery under advisement. We look forward to filing answers to the complaints and visiting with the judge again in early September."