Rodriguez v. RWA Trucking Co., B241727

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtSUZUKAWA, J.
Citation162 Cal.Rptr.3d 250
Parties Salvador RODRIGUEZ et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. RWA TRUCKING COMPANY, INC., Defendant and Appellant.
Decision Date12 September 2013
Docket NumberB241727

162 Cal.Rptr.3d 250

Salvador RODRIGUEZ et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
RWA TRUCKING COMPANY, INC., Defendant and Appellant.

B241727

Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 4, California.

Filed September 12, 2013
As Modified September 20, 2013


Miles L. Kavaller for Defendant and Appellant.

Law Offices of Stephen Glick, Stephen Glick, and Anthony Jenkins for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

SUZUKAWA, J.

Defendant RWA Trucking Company, Inc. (RWA), appeals from the trial court's judgment that it violated the unfair competition law, Business and Professions Code section 17200 (UCL or section 17200 ), by charging its drivers for automobile liability insurance, physical damage insurance, cargo insurance, and workers' compensation insurance from 1993 to 2011. RWA contends that the UCL causes of action and the state laws on which they are based are preempted by federal law. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the matter to the trial court.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

I. The Parties and the Dispute

RWA is an interstate trucking company registered as a "for-hire interstate motor carrier" with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). At all relevant times, RWA conducted its trucking business from facilities in Long Beach, California, transporting containers and other cargo from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

RWA contracted with plaintiff Salvador Rodriguez and other drivers who owned their own tractors (drivers) under written lease agreements (Agreements). Under the Agreements, RWA leased the tractors from the drivers and dispatched the drivers to transport cargo. The Agreements characterized the drivers as independent contractors.

The Agreements required each driver to carry automobile liability insurance, physical damage insurance, and cargo insurance (collectively, liability insurance), and it gave the drivers the option either to obtain their own policies or elect coverage under

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RWA's fleet policies. If the drivers elected coverage under RWA's fleet policies, RWA deducted from the drivers' earnings (or "charged back" from his or her compensation) the costs of the insurance. RWA also deducted from the drivers' earnings the cost of workers' compensation insurance. The chargebacks were reflected on weekly settlement statements given to each driver.

The Agreements authorized RWA to charge an administrative fee for arranging insurance for the drivers. An administrative fee for that purpose of at least 1 percent was deducted from the drivers' compensation during some years.

RWA deducted the following amounts from the drivers for workers' compensation: December 12, 1993, to December 31, 1994: $71,688.60; December 31, 1994, to December 31, 1995: $71,688.60.

During the years 1993 to 1995, RWA collected from its drivers a 1 percent administration fee for automobile liability insurance, physical damage insurance, and cargo insurance. During the years 1996 to 2002, RWA collected significantly less from its drivers than it paid in insurance premiums, ranging from $2,611.48 in 2002 to $244,269.55 in 1997. During the years 2003 to 2009, RWA deducted more from its drivers than it paid in insurance premiums.

II. The Present Litigation

A. The Pleadings and Class Certification

Plaintiff filed the present action in Los Angeles Superior Court in 1997. The complaint alleged: (1) plaintiff was an employee, not an independent contractor, but was denied employee benefits; (2) defendants failed to comply with federal truth–in–leasing regulations, thereby breaching fiduciary duties to plaintiff; and (3) defendants sold insurance to plaintiff without a license. ( Rivas v. Rail Delivery Serv. (9th Cir.2005) 423 F.3d 1079, 1081.) On January 16, 1998, defendants removed the case to federal court; on September 8, 2005, the Ninth Circuit held plaintiff lacked United States Constitution article III standing and remanded the case back to state court. ( Id . at p. 1084.)

Plaintiff filed the operative fourth amended complaint on May 12, 2009. The first cause of action alleged RWA "transacted insurance" within the meaning of Insurance Code section 1631 by "selling insurance to Plaintiff for compensation" and "charging Plaintiff an administrative fee of at least 1% on the aforementioned insurance that Defendant sold to Plaintiff." Such transactions were unlawful, plaintiff alleged, because RWA was not licensed to transact insurance in California. Further, RWA "failed to properly disclose the total premium it charged Plaintiff and each Class Member by failing to properly disclose the at least 1% commission Defendants earned, violating California Insurance Code § 381(f)." These Insurance Code violations were alleged to be unlawful and to constitute unfair business practices in violation of the UCL. The second cause of action alleged RWA violated section 17200 by charging plaintiff for workers' compensation insurance, in violation of Labor Code section 3751 ( section 3751 ) and Albillo v. Intermodal Container Services, Inc. (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 190, 8 Cal.Rptr.3d 350 ( Albillo ).

The court granted plaintiff's motion for class certification and, on June 9, 2011, it issued an order certifying the following class: "All persons and entities in California that provided trucking services, including the transport of cargo and freight, for RWA Trucking Co., Inc., from December 12, 1993 through the present, who had money deducted from their earnings by RWA Trucking Co., Inc. to pay for Liability Insurance Coverage, Property Damage

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Insurance Coverage, Cargo Loss Insurance Coverage, or Workers' Compensation Insurance Coverage."

B. Trial and Decision

The case went to trial on stipulated facts. On December 6, 2011, the court filed a statement of decision. Following is a summary.

1. First Cause of Action: Transacting Insurance Without a License

Prior to trial, the court found that RWA was transacting insurance and receiving compensation for doing so within the meaning of the Insurance Code. The court explained: "It is undisputed that RWA received compensation in connection with obtaining insurance for Rodriguez. Accordingly, RWA was required to have a license to transact insurance, but, undisputedly, RWA did not have a license. [¶] The Court finds that Albillo v. Intermodal Container Services, Inc. [, supra, ] 114 Cal.App.4th 190[8 Cal.Rptr.3d 350] does not compel a different result as to the transacting insurance without a license issue." (Fn.omitted.)

Following trial, the court further found that RWA did not comply with the Insurance Code's disclosure requirements: "RWA stipulated that it did not comply with Insurance Code § 381.... RWA did not give any class member an insurance policy or certificate of insurance, nor any of the items listed in Insurance Code Section 381, i.e., nothing was given to the class members that showed the insurance premium, rates, or criteria used to determine how much to charge the truck driver for insurance.

"... RWA stipulated in Fact Nos. 38, 47 and 48, just as Farmers did in the Troyk case, that it charged Plaintiff an ‘administrative fee’ for providing insurance to Plaintiff. Troyk [v. Farmers Group, Inc. (2009) ] 171 Cal.App.4th [1305,] 1324–1325[90 Cal.Rptr.3d 589]. RWA, like Farmers, did not comply with the disclosure requirement in Insurance Code § 381(f). Following Troyk, RWA violated Insurance Code § 381(f) and Plaintiff has established through Stipulated Fact No. 48 that Plaintiff and each class member has standing to sue RWA under California's Unfair Competition Laws for RWA's violation of Insurance Code § 381(f).

. . .

¶] ... [¶

"... The Court also rejects RWA's argument that its practice of violating Insurance Code § 381 is permitted by the ‘Truth–in–Leasing’ regulation in 49 C.F.R. § 376.12(j).1 Regardless whether charge-backs for insurance might be permitted, RWA must comply with the law in making any such charge-backs, such as complying with California Insurance Code § 381."

Based on these findings, the court found that RWA violated the "unlawful" prong of section 17200, and it ordered restitution in the amount of "the difference for each class member between the premium for each such insurance and the amount of money deducted by RWA from each class member for such insurance," or $502,636.32, plus prejudgment interest of $377,490.33.

2. Second Cause of Action: Charging Plaintiffs for Workers' Compensation Insurance

Prior to trial, the court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary adjudication of the second cause of action. The court found that under Albillo, RWA was not permitted to require plaintiffs to reimburse

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it for the cost of workers' compensation insurance. It explained: "The facts of this case are nearly identical to the facts in Albillo . Here, as in Albillo, the Workers' Compensation Policy at issue protects Defendant from lawsuits made by Plaintiff, should...

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