Servicemembers file class-action lawsuit against car shipping contractor
By ADAM L. MATHIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 22, 2014
RAF MILDENHALL, England — Former and current Defense Department employees who have not seen their personal vehicles in more than two months have filed a class-action lawsuit against the government’s vehicle shipping contractor.
Williams Litigation Group and Tate Law Group filed the suit against International Auto Logistics on Thursday in Georgia on behalf of Air Force Capt. Jason Smith, at Joint Base San Antonio; Air Force Master Sgt. Patrick McKimmie, Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Nancy Swenson, recently retired from the Defense Department; Army Capt. Michael Cleveland; and Debra Gilbertson.
The six claim that International took possession of their vehicles between June 1 and June 12 for shipping, but has failed to deliver them and has not provided accurate information about the vehicles’ whereabouts, according to the complaint filed with the court and given to Stars and Stripes by one of their attorneys, Nathan T. Williams.
If the court certifies that these six represent a group and they win their case, the award would go to anyone who fit the criteria for remuneration, Williams said. The damages are estimated at more than $5 million.
Smith, one of the litigants, declined to be interviewed pending approval from his superior, but he posted on Facebook that he was participating in the lawsuit because International did not respond to his reimbursement claim and because he wants to hold the company accountable.
The lawsuit was filed on the same day information was posted online indicating International was not meeting the 98 percent on-time delivery rate required in the government contract. A Facebook user posted an email from U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. James K. Sims, with U.S. Army Materiel Command, that said International, as of Aug. 19, had processed “27,358 vehicles: 14,154 vehicles are currently in transit with approximately 70 percent late in meeting the required delivery date.”
A spokesman for Sims confirmed the email was authentic.
International assumed responsibility in May for the more than $957.5 million contract to ship Defense Department employees’ personally owned vehicles when they change duty stations. U.S. Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, which oversees vehicle shipping, estimates that 68,000 vehicles are shipped each year.
The Defense Department has received hundreds of complaints about International, and more than 3,000 people have joined “International Auto Logistics: Reviews, Complaints, and Inconveniences,” a Facebook group. Many of the stories posted to the group’s page complain of vehicles delivered late and inaccurate location information.
“We shipped our vehicle on May 15 from Graf to Baltimore,” one person posted on Aug. 15, referring to Grafenwöhr, Germany. She was told her vehicle “was in Norfolk, then Savannah. But the truth is, we have no idea where our car is and it has been 90 days since we sent it to sail on the boat to nowhere.”
Earlier this month, DOD officials investigated the situation and found that International was not properly documenting the transfer of vehicles from trucks to container ships.
A spokesman for U.S. Transportation Command said he had not seen the lawsuit and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Amanda Nunez, a spokeswoman for International, and a spokesman for U.S. Transportation Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.