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Walter L. Ellis v. Central Refrigerated Services

July 22, 2011

WALTER L. ELLIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CENTRAL REFRIGERATED SERVICES, INC., BILL BAKER, K.C. MCCANN, AND DOES 1-10, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge: Hon. Jacqueline H. Nguyen

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

I. INTRODUCTION

On May 31 through June 2, 2011, the Court held a bench trial on the following claims of Plaintiff Walter Ellis: (1) retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) conspiracy to violate civil rights, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); (3) conversion; (4) breach of contract; (5) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (6) civil conspiracy; and (7) unlawful business practices, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, et seq. Having reviewed the testimony and exhibits presented at trial, the Court now makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.*fn1

II. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

1. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and over Plaintiff's state-law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Subject matter jurisdiction is not in dispute.

2. Venue is proper in the Central District of California pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2).

III. FINDINGS OF FACT

1. Plaintiff Walter Ellis is an African-American male.

2. Defendant Central Refrigerated Services, Inc. ("CRS"), is a transportation services provider headquartered in West Valley City, Utah.

3. Defendant Bill Baker ("Baker") is the Director of Human Resources for CRS and has held that position during the entire time of Plaintiff's involvement with CRS.

4. Defendant K.C. McCann is the terminal manager for CRS's facility in Fontana, California.

5. Plaintiff was hired by CRS as an over-the-road truck driver on August 30, 2007.

6. On October 15, 2007, Plaintiff took a medical leave.

7. On November 14, 2007, Plaintiff was re-hired by CRS as a company driver.

8. When he was re-hired, Plaintiff was given a copy of CRS's Driver Manual.

9. On January 4, 2008, Plaintiff voluntarily ended his employment with CRS and became an owner-operator with CRS.

10. The policies of CRS as set forth in the Driver Manual apply to owner-operators. (Trial Ex. 500-3.)

11. The Driver Manual prohibits employees and owner-operators from "[m]aking false, vicious or malicious statements about other employee(s), CRS Owner-Operators, or CRS." (Trial Ex. 500-8.)

12. When he became an owner-operator with CRS, Plaintiff entered into a Contractor Agreement, setting forth the terms of the contract between Plaintiff and CRS. (Trial Ex. 503.)

13. The Contractor Agreement provides that if "any party violates . . . any Company policy, the other party shall have the right to immediately terminate the Agreement." (Trial Ex. 503-12, ¶ 14.)

14. When he became an owner-operator with CRS, Plaintiff entered into an Equipment Leasing Agreement, whereby he leased a 2008 Kenworth T2000 tractor from Central Leasing, Inc., an affiliated company of CRS. (Trial Ex. 505.)

15. The Equipment Leasing Agreement provides that "[l]essee shall be in default under this lease upon the happening of any of the following events or conditions (herein called "Events of Default") . . . (g) if the Operating Lease Agreement between Lessee and the Operating Carrier is terminated by either party for any reason." (Trial Ex. 505 ¶ 12.)

16. The Equipment Leasing Agreement identifies CRS as the Operating Carrier. (Trial Ex. 505-2, ¶ 6.)

17. The Equipment Leasing Agreement provides that "[u]pon the occurrence of an Event of Default, Lessor, at its option, may exercise any one or more of the following remedies: . . . (d) enter upon the premises where any Item of Equipment is located, and without notice to Lessee, and with or without process, take immediate possession of such Item . . . ." (Trial Ex. 505-5, ¶ 13.)

18. When he entered into the Equipment Leasing Agreement, Plaintiff also signed a Limited Power of Attorney ("LPOA") whereby he appointed CRS as his agent and granted it the right to "conduct . . . certain acts on [his] behalf in the event said lease agreement is terminated." (Trial Ex. 506.)

19. Among the powers granted to CRS under the LPOA was the power to "take possession of, whether by repossession or otherwise, said leased equipment and sell, assign, re-lease, convey, mortgage, hypothecate, lease, or otherwise use or dispose of said equipment . . . ." (Trial Ex. 506-1.)

20. During the course of his relationship with CRS, Plaintiff raised various concerns with CRS administrative personnel, including Baker ...


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