The sudden closure of a furniture company has left an Alabama trucking company – as well as many others – waiting to reclaim their property.
In a class action lawsuit filed on Dec. 5 in Mississippi’s U.S. District Court – Aberdeen Division, Atkins Trucking LLC is claiming Wells Fargo has “wrongfully denied” it access to impounded trailers and goods.
The trailers, as well as the associated cargo, were seized in the wake of the United Furniture Industries layoffs on Nov. 21 – which saw over 2,700 employees learn about the sudden end of operations via text and email.
At that time, UFI instructed its drivers to not deliver their loads and to return to the nearest United Furniture facility.
Casey Lott, one of the attorneys representing the trucking company, said United Furniture used backhauling to prevent trucks from returning to the factory empty. However, Lott said that not every trailer that was returned to a UFI facility contained furniture.
In order to protect any potential assets, Wells Fargo hired Security Associates of Mississippi – a Belmont, Miss.-based security group – to secure the facilities. According to Lott, the group has also prevented drivers and carriers from recovering their trailers.
“Wells Fargo has an interest here, but they don’t have an interest in every trailer,” Lott told The Daily Journal. “They are holding hundreds of trailers hostage, trailers and goods they don’t own. Wells Fargo secured the facility and won’t return the property to the rightful owners.”
Lott says that while some of the backhauling was coordinated through large trucking firms, many were independent contractors or owner-operators. It’s those drivers that he says are feeling the biggest impact from the seizure.
“When you’re talking about someone who only has a handful of trucks and trailers, impounding one or two trailers could be devastating,” he said. “They are frantic trying to get their loads back.”
Aside from attorney fees and court costs, the lawsuit is not seeking monetary damages – merely injunctive release. Lott contends the bank should have someone to unload all of the returning trailers – with the cargo being locked securely inside the warehouse – and all other trailers should be released to the carrier.
“We are seeking an order from the court to force them to release other people’s property,” he said.
Lott intends to have the case certified as a class action. This would allow owners of the other trailers and loads to join the lawsuit and recover their property.
This isn’t the only case to be brought against the now-defunct company. A trio of lawsuits allege United Furniture violated the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires companies with more than 100 employees give 60 day advance written notice before layoffs or shutting down.
Additionally, a Texas trucking company has sued United over a 44,000-pound load of copper wire that was supposed to be delivered on Nov. 22 – the day after United fired nearly its entire workforce. The load has been impounded for the past two weeks.
A report from the New York Post says that David Belford, the owner of UFI, has essentially “disappeared” following the company’s abrupt closure. According to the report, Belford’s vanishing act stems from a disagreement with the company’s board of director and bankers over whether or not to file for bankruptcy.
“No one has heard from the owner. He’s not returning anyone’s phone calls,” a source with knowledge of the situation told The Post. “It’s such a horrible situation.” LL