Judge Rules Pilot Flying J Can Contact Customers

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Judge Rules Pilot Flying J Can Contact Customers


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A Knox County Circuit judge declined to stop Pilot Flying J from contacting customers who may have been affected by alleged rebate fraud.

Today, Judge Harold Wimberly denied a motion by Atlantic Coast Carriers Inc. (ACC) for a restraining order that would have barred Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam from reaching out to other trucking customers impacted by the rebate scandal.

Wimberly said ACC lacked proof of its claims Haslam was tampering with witnesses, adding that the firm was relying solely on media reports in which Haslam was quoted as saying he was reaching out to trucking customers allegedly shorted by his sales staff and taking steps to repay them, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

"We are delighted with the judge's decision today," Tom Ingram, a Pilot Flying J spokesman, said after the ruling. "There was absolutely no proof of any wrongdoing on the part of Pilot Flying J or its CEO Jimmy Haslam."

ACC, based in Hazelhurst, Ga., filed a motion for a restraining order Thursday, alleging that Haslam is obstructing justice and buying off customers who were cheated in the company's reported rebate fraud, as CSNews Online previously reported. The trucking company was the first to file suit against Pilot Flying J following a April 15 raid of its headquarters by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service.

In a statement posted on Pilot Flying J's website, Ingram said the idea that the truck stop company should not talk to its customers "is outrageous and would have crippled Pilot's ability to do business."

"Equally outrageous," he said, "is the notion that the CEO of a company should not be able to reach out to his customers and say, 'If we've short-changed you in any way, we apologize and will correct it and pay you 100 percent of what you are owed, no more and no less.'"

Knoxville attorney Albert Harb, of the law firm Hodges, Doughty & Carson, argued Pilot Flying J's position in court Monday morning. In his filing, Harb said that, contrary to the plaintiff's claims, Pilot Flying J had not sought any legal releases from the customers it contacted and that the requested restraining order, if enacted, "would have the practical effect of shutting down defendants' business and creating havoc throughout the entire trucking industry in the United States."

Furthermore, Harb argued that Pilot Flying J's customers "deserve to be paid what they are legitimately owed, no more or no less." He said the attempt to restrain the company from doing that is "a classic example of 'no good deed goes unpunished.'"

Harb added the requested restraining order would prevent the company from communicating with its customers even if the customers initiated the contact. "The law does not support such a ridiculous and absurd result," Harb's filing stated.

Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J is a family-owned business that was started by Haslam's father in 1958. The company operates more than 650 retail locations and is the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in North America.