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April 29 2019

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44 The Journal of Commerce | April 29 2019 By Colin Barrett Q&A Q A Check the expiration date Without identifying any companies, I was doing business with a less-than-truckload company, Carrier A, and had a tariff with it. Carrier A was bought out by Carrier B in 2014. Carrier B revised the tariff with its name on it as we con- tinued to ship with it. Shortly aer getting invoices (we ship prepaid), we found that we weren't being billed based on our program. Reaching out to the sales rep, we were advised to pay short and they would get the balance wiped off. As you can imagine, things got worse and we subsequently stopped doing business with the carrier. Over the years we'd get letters demanding payment, which we denied, providing emails that told us to pay short and that the balance due would be wiped off. Recently, it has gotten worse with the company now send- ing it to collections, where we once again declined to pay. We tried to settle as the total fees were for $1,200. The carrier wouldn't budge. Now this carrier is sending past-due amounts calling "right of reversal notification" demanding payments directly from our customers. The sum is too low to seek counsel or even to think of going to court. TO START, THERE'S nothing you can do to prevent the carrier or its collection agent from dunning your custom- ers with those "right of reversal notices." In our land of the free and home of the brave, anyone is at liberty to demand money from anybody else, provided only that they don't use fraudulent means to try to bolster those demands, and I don't see anything in what you've told me to suggest fraud. Neither is there anything to prevent you from advis- ing those customers that the demands are inaccurate and unsupported legally, based on what you wrote. In other words, do your best to thwart the carrier and its bill collector from pursuing this avenue as you have blocked it on other paths it's tried. It's pretty obvious to me, and should be to you as well, that the main reason the carrier is dunning your customers isn't in hopes of actually collecting something from them, but rather as a means of putting pressure on you to pay up. What you need to do is try to enlist customer support in resisting that pressure. There are several things you mention that lead me to consider these alleged balance-due bills to be bogus. First, you say you have a tariff from the carrier reflecting the rates you actually paid. Now, I guess the carrier can reply that it canceled that tariff or amended it, so that isn't necessarily dispositive. Second, you indicate that you have email commu- nications from carrier representatives supporting the amounts you paid. Here the carrier can counter that the employees who sent you those emails weren't autho- rized to speak for it, so that doesn't settle the matter either. Both of these things are in your favor, of course, and would weigh heavily in court, but the carrier does have counterarguments it could present. The third point, however, is beyond argument, and leaves the carrier in the dust. You say this dispute has been going on "over the years," and the five years that has now elapsed from when you say the company you identify as Carrier B bought out your original Carrier A commercial partner and first came into the picture tells me there's likely been a lot of time gone by since you made the ship- ments in question. I wonder exactly how much time. This is important because there's a statute of lim- itations that already may have expired here, or even if it hasn't, probably will very shortly. Under 49 U.S.C. Section 14705(a), "[a] carrier … must begin a civil action to recover charges for transportation or service provided by the carrier within 18 months after the claim accrues." The claim "accrued" when a shipment was made, and the carrier's failure to take legal action within the specified time extinguishes its legal right to collect. If that time's already run out, you can advise the car- rier that its right to the money has expired, and that you'll consider any further collection attempts on its part to be fraudulent and will take appropriate action against it. If the time still isn't quite up, just wait it out (you say the amount is too small to warrant a lawsuit) and then do so same thing. That's your simplest solution. JOC Consultant, author, and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at 5201 Whippoorwill Lane, Johns Island, S.C. 29455; phone, 843 559 1277; email, Contact him to order the most recent 351-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2010. It's pretty obvious to me, and should be to you as well, that the main reason the carrier is dunning your customers isn't in hopes of actually collecting something from them, but rather as a means of putting pressure on you to pay up.

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