Brad Gaddy owns a trucking company in the little town of Double Springs, Alabama that hauls wood chips, lumber, logs, and other freight for a number of customers in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. In fact, with 17 trucks and 30 employees, Gaddy Logistics, Inc. is one of the larger employers in Double Springs, accounting for 4-5% of the total jobs in this small town. Imagine Gaddy’s surprise one Monday morning two weeks ago when he learned that the Federal Government had effectively closed his business.
Gaddy had received an early-morning call from a customer in Tennessee who “asked how I intended to deliver his freight. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about,” Gaddy recalled. “I said ‘Just like always – hook-up to the trailer and have it there this afternoon.’” The customer then told Gaddy he had received notice that all Gaddy Logistics trucks had been placed “Out-of Service” (may not operate) by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
A quick visit to the FMCSA website confirmed what Gaddy’s customer had told him.
Understandably confused, Gaddy called the FMCSA office in Atlanta. Officials there told Gaddy that he had ignored a letter from them requiring him to file a “Plan of Corrective Action” to address two roadside truck inspections, each of which had found one defective tire. Both vehicles had been placed temporarily out-of-service until the tires were replaced. Because the company was cited two times within a 90-day period, the federal agency required a written plan of “improved maintenance practices” if he was continue to operate.
The problem was, Gaddy never received that letter and the deadline for filing the report had come and gone. FMCSA officials from Atlanta later faxed a copy of the letter, which had apparently been sent to the physical address of the business, rather than the post office box. When Gaddy objected that he had not received the notice, he was told “that’s not our problem” by FMCSA officials.
Gaddy then contacted the Alabama Loggers Council at the Alabama Forestry Association and asked for assistance. AFA contacted Congressman Robert Aderholt and Senator Jeff Sessions on his behalf. Staffers at both offices were shocked to learn that a federal agency could, even temporarily, shut down a private company with no more notice than a first class letter.
Congressman Aderholt’s office helped Gaddy submit his “Plan of Corrective Action,” which was approved the following day. However, FMCSA informed Gaddy that his trucks would remain out-of-service for the full 30-day period because, “that’s our policy.”
Congressman Aderholt’s office continued to appeal the case with both the Atlanta and the Washington D.C. offices of FMCSA, arguing that such important correspondence should be sent by Certified or Registered mail at a minimum. The case was ultimately appealed to the FMCSA Office of the Secretary (Anne S. Farrow), and later to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (Anthony Foxx). Both refused to overturn the ruling and reinstate the company, in spite of the approved plan and the admission that the letter “might not have been received.”
Ironically, Gaddy received a Certified Letter on October 30, 2013 stating that his “Plan of Corrective Action” had been approved. FMCSA obviously has the “cart before the horse” in sending a certified letter to acknowledge approval of a corrective action, but using regular mail to tell a company that if they do not take the corrective action they would be closed down!
Gaddy’s case is now effectively dead. His insurance carrier has cancelled his policy due to the ruling, and he further faces two more weeks of trying to keep his business afloat and his employees paid with no way to produce income. It seems unconscionable that a group of un-elected federal bureaucrats would operate with such careless disregard for a legitimate company, 30 employees and the small town economy they help support, even to the point of ignoring the counsel of the elected representatives who oversee their agency.
Federal agencies should ensure that businesses they regulate operate safely, for the good of the company and the public. But no agency operating under a banner of “that’s our policy” should shut down a legitimate business that has complied with a requested action, without ensuring that proper notice was sent AND RECEIVED about a potential shutdown order.
Looked at another way, is this still a country where “we the people” are served by a government funded with our taxes, to help us run businesses and employ people?
This case makes me doubt that proposition.
Chris Isaacson is the Executive Vice-President of the Alabama Forestry Association, which represents members of Alabama’s forest products industry.