ILNews

Attorney’s report alleges trucking school small-claims abuses

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

An attorney’s report examining more than 7,700 lawsuits filed by an Indianapolis-based trucking school in just two Marion County township small-claims courts alleges systemic abuses that resulted in thousands of judgments against people who may never have stepped foot in the county or the state.

“I tried to get as much data as I could to establish there are real problems here,” said Jeffrey C. Boulden, who provided copies of his report this week to key judges, Supreme Court justices, the Indiana attorney general’s office and media outlets.

Boulden asserts Driver Solutions LLC filed 7,711 suits in Franklin and Warren township small-claims courts from 2008 through April 30, 2012. That total equals about 148 cases per month – or more than six cases per business day – predominantly against driver trainees nationwide. The company has campuses around the country.

Boulden reviewed 25 percent of those case files as a sample and found 93 percent of the sample cases were filed against defendants who lived outside Indiana, which he claims violates the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692i(a). The federal law regarding venue requires such collections actions be filed in the jurisdiction where a contract was signed or where a consumer resides.

The report also claims defendants in numerous cases were improperly served notice through standard U.S. Mail, and that about 70 percent of judgments exceeded the statutory small-claims cap of $6,000. Boulden says any such judgments should be voided.

Indiana Court of Appeals Judge John Baker is among the judges who received a copy of Boulden’s examination of Driver Solutions LLC. “It’s pretty sad,” Baker said after his initial review of the unsolicited report titled, “The Poplicola Report on the Marion County Small Claims Court.”

Baker, along with Senior Judge Betty Barteau of the Court of Appeals, headed the Supreme Court Task Force that in May of 2012 issued its Report on the Marion County Small Claims Courts in response to criticism of widespread abuses including perceptions of “forum shopping.”

The township courts since have instituted some reforms, but Baker said lawmakers have failed to respond to the task force report’s recommendations, including a proposal that the township courts be incorporated into Marion Superior Courts. From that standpoint, he said, Boulden’s report isn’t surprising.

“This may well cover times before some significant changes were made, but I am frustrated that notwithstanding our efforts in getting the (task force) report out, there has been no reaction from the General Assembly,” Baker said.

“I’m appreciative of his efforts,” Baker said. Coupled with the task force report, past Indianapolis Bar Association reports of small-claims problems and widespread criticism of court practices, the report joins a body of evidence that “indicates we need some structural change.”

Boulden said Driver Solutions charged a standard tuition of $5,995 for a driver training course lasting a few weeks, often financing the training with no upfront cost to students. He said company filings often sought to collect interest on defaults as well, pushing the claim past the $6,000 cap.

Attorney Brian Alsip, who filed many of the claims for Driver Solutions during the timeframe Boulden examined, did not return telephone messages seeking comment.

Driver Solutions attorney Garrett Lowe provided the following statement from Driver Holdings LLC CEO Michael Benkert:

“While we have not received a copy of the report in question, I am pleased with our commitment to providing career skills and employment opportunities within the trucking industry. In the past year alone, we have assisted over 4,000 individuals in obtaining gainful employment.”

Lowe said the statement would be the extent of the company’s comments regarding the report at this time.

Warren Township Small Claims Judge Garland Graves said he had seen the report and was reviewing Driver Solutions cases filed after he took the bench in 2011.

“I am concerned,” Graves said, and he noted the township no longer allows service via regular mail. But he has concerns, too, about Boulden’s report. “A lot of incomplete information was put forth,” Graves said. For instance, he said some suits might have been properly served, but notice of service could be confidential because it contained Social Security numbers.

“He never contacted me as a judge to address any concerns he may have,” Graves said.

Graves noted Driver Solutions contracts carried a venue clause in which parties agree that any litigation would be filed in a Marion County township court. But he said he couldn’t say whether that provision might violate federal collections law.

“The federal (Fair) Debt Collection (Practices) Act is something I don’t have jurisdiction over,” Graves said. That’s an issue someone could bring in federal court, he said.

Franklin Township Judge John A. Kitley Jr. could not be reached for comment. Calls to the court during business hours Friday were not answered, and a recording said messages could not be left because the court’s voice mailbox was full.

Boulden has been a legal aid attorney for a number of years and said he became familiar with Driver Solutions when representing a dozen or more defendants. He acknowledged the time he devoted to his examination of case files in the township courts cost him his job and took a personal toll, but he said he felt compelled to compile his findings in an attempt to right wrongs.

“I felt my responsibility as a legal-aid-type lawyer was to do this kind of work because no one else was going to do it,” Boulden said. He said of his report, “It is the single best piece of lawyering/advocacy I’ve done in 24 years.”
 

ADVERTISEMENT

  • Driver Solutions Inst. Report
    7700 lawsuits and a total amount of (mostly default) judgments approaching $50 million. Jeff, I'm glad you submitted your report. May something good come of it.
  • What?
    How and why 7,711 defaults is just unbelievable!
  • Company used an attorney
    The article stated that attorney Brian Alsip filed many of the cases.
  • UPL
    did they use a lawyer to file these suits or did they just appear for themselves? the small claims rule that corps must use a lawyer over a certain amount is often ignored by creditors, and many judges may overlook it in the absence of an active defense
    • KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK
      You will be rewarded for your great deeds. The judges etc. doesnt have a somewhat positive response b/c they have also allowed the abuse in their court to cont. How in the world do someone get a judgement over the maxium amount that is allowed. GEEZ...I believe oversight over small claims courts are definately needed. I hear horror stories all the time. Atty Boulden please keep up the good work...you are truly needed and thank you very much!!

      Post a comment to this story

      COMMENTS POLICY
      We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
       
      You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
       
      Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
       
      No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
       
      We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
       

      Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

      Sponsored by

      facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

      Indiana State Bar Association

      Indianapolis Bar Association

      Evansville Bar Association

      Allen County Bar Association

      Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

      facebook
      ADVERTISEMENT
      Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
      1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

      2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

      3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

      4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

      5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

      ADVERTISEMENT