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Turner v. JCB Corp.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 21, 2019

Keith Turner, Plaintiff,
v.
JCB Corporation, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE ROSLYN O. SILVER, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Keith Turner worked as a truck driver for Defendant JCB Corporation. Turner was either an employee, independent contractor, or maybe both. During their relationship, Turner and JCB entered into several contracts, including one regarding Turner's compensation and another involving Turner's lease of a truck from JCB. In May 2016, the parties' relationship deteriorated. Eventually, Turner filed the present suit, alleging claims for discrimination based on race. JCB then filed counterclaims for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Turner now seeks summary judgment on the counterclaims while JCB seeks summary judgment on some of the race discrimination claims.

         BACKGROUND

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. Turner is an African-American truck driver who, as of March 2016, was operating his own company named D&K Carriers, LLC. At that time, JCB was a relatively small trucking company that paid drivers to deliver freight. In March and April 2016, Turner and JCB entered into four separate agreements. In general, those agreements involved Turner performing services for JCB and Turner leasing a vehicle from JCB.

         Two of the agreements were executed on March 11, 2016. The first was an “Independent Contractor Agreement.” (Doc. 67-5 at 2). Under that agreement, Turner agreed to perform “Trucking and Maintanance [sic]” services for JCB. That meant Turner would perform “driver services as needed by [JCB].” The agreement stated the parties “understood” that Turner would not be considered “an employee with respect to JCB Trucking, but [would be] an independent contractor.” (Doc. 67-5 at 2). The second agreement was an “Owner/Operator Truck Lease Agreement.” (Doc. 60-4 at 6). Under that agreement, Turner agreed to use his own truck to deliver freight for JCB. The parties apparently understood that agreement's compensation provision but it is not comprehensible to an outsider. The provision merely stated JCB would pay Turner “80% OF GROSS on all shipments transported by [Turner], LESS ALL EXPENSES THAT are the responsibility of [Turner].” (Doc. 60-4 at 7). The agreement does not define “gross” or “expenses.”

         A little over a month after entering into the first two agreements, Turner and JCB entered into two more. On April 20, 2016, JCB and Turner entered into an “Agreement for Services.” (Doc. 60-4 at 10). Pursuant to that agreement, Turner-through his company D&K Carriers-agreed to recruit other truck drivers to deliver freight for JCB. D&K Carriers would also “dispatch, route, manage and handle all logistics” for the drivers its recruited. (Doc. 60-4 at 10). D&K Carriers would receive “30% of the gross profits JCB makes off of each load” delivered by the drivers D&K Carriers recruited. (Doc. 60-4 at 11). This agreement stated D&K Carriers would be “an independent contractor” and would “not be considered an employee or joint venture with JCB for any purpose whatsoever.” (Doc. 60-4 at 10).

         Finally, on April 21, 2016, Turner and JCB entered into their fourth and final agreement. That agreement was titled “Vehicle Lease Agreement.” (Doc. 60-5). Pursuant to that agreement, Turner agreed to lease a truck from JCB for 42 months at a rate of $640 every two weeks. At the end of the 42 months, the lease gave Turner the option to purchase the truck for $5, 000. (Doc. 60-5 at 5). The lease required Turner “maintain the vehicle in good condition, repair maintenance and running order.” (Doc. 60-5 at 5). JCB could terminate the lease if Turner failed to “pay any amount due” or failed “to comply with any of the covenants contained” in the lease. (Doc. 60-5 at 5).

         The parties have not provided a clear explanation of their relationship from its beginning in March and the subsequent months. It appears Turner performed under the agreements by delivering freight and recruiting others to drive for JCB. It is not clear, however, what Turner's day-to-day work was like or the extent to which JCB exercised control over that work. All that can be gleaned from the present record is that the relationship was amicable for a very short time. Disputes arose in May 2016 regarding the parties' obligations to each other.

         According to JCB, Turner failed to make the payments due on May 6, 2016, under the Owner/Operator Truck Lease Agreement. JCB explains that while the Owner/Operator Truck Lease Agreement provided Turner would be paid for providing services, it also entitled JCB to deduct expenses from Turner's compensation. According to JCB, this structure resulted in the expenses being more than Turner was owed in compensation. Thus, JCB claims some of Turner's “net settlements were negative.” (Doc. 67 at 7). JCB claims Turner stopped making payments on the Vehicle Lease Agreement around the same time he began owing money under the “net settlements.”

         Turner continued to work for JCB throughout May 2016, despite allegedly not keeping up on his financial obligations. According to Turner, on May 26, 2016, an employee of JCB, Cody Eaton, called Turner. The parties disagree on whether this call occurred, meaning the description of the call comes entirely from Turner. According to Turner, Eaton called and invited Turner to go to Eaton's house and do cocaine. (Doc. 60-1 at 5). Turner declined. Eaton then allegedly stated:

We should have kept our foot on your niggers' necks. . . . We used to beat the S-H-I-T out of you guys, out of you niggers, and we should have never let our -- we should have never took our foot off you niggers' neck. . . . [Y]ou know, we used to kick you niggers asses and I'm with the KKK. You haven't seen me and [a JCB vice president] in our mask[s]. . . . I'm in the KKK. You haven't seen me -- You haven't seen me in my mask . . . You're a good nigger. . . . I used to have niggers work for me before . . . some niggers [did me] bad before. But, [Turner], you're a good nigger.

(Doc. 60-1 at 6). The parties do not explain what happened after this call. Turner claims he reported Eaton's behavior to Mark Ganley, JCB's owner. (Doc. 60-1 at 7). Ganley allegedly apologized for Eaton's behavior and said it was “unacceptable.” The parties do not identify any formal actions taken by Ganley. A few months later, Eaton allegedly called Turner again. During that call, Eaton allegedly said “[D]on't go get a lawyer . . . you know that other day that we talked, disregard that. Don't go get a lawyer.” (Doc. 60-1 at 8).

         Turner apparently continued to work for JCB until the end of July 2016. During that time, JCB believes the amount Turner owed continued to grow. At the end of July, JCB repossessed the truck Turner had been leasing. According to JCB, Turner had not maintained the truck in good condition and JCB had to incur substantial sums in repossessing and repairing the truck. As of August 2016, Turner and JCB were no longer working together.

         In February 2017, Turner filed the present suit. Turner alleged claims for “hostile work environment” and “retaliation” under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII. (Doc. 3 at 1). JCB answered the complaint and asserted counterclaims for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The counterclaims were based on Turner's alleged failure to perform under the Owner/Operator Truck Lease Agreement and the Vehicle Lease Agreement. (Doc. 8). The parties proceeded with discovery.

         In June 2018, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Turner seeks summary judgment on all of the counterclaims while JCB seeks summary judgment only on the Title VII claims. The fact that JCB seeks summary judgment only on the Title VII claims means the parties agree this case must, at least, proceed to trial on Turner's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. And given that claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII are so similar, it is unclear what purpose is served by JCB seeking dismissal of the Title VII claims. See Nat'l Ass'n of African Am.-Owned Media v. Charter Commc'ns, Inc., No. 17-55723, 2019 WL 419393, at *5 (9th Cir. Feb. 4, 2019) (noting ...


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