Texas trucking company sues United Furniture over undelivered copper

Dec. 5—TUPELO — A Texas-based transportation company is suing United Furniture Industries for more than $1 million over a 22-ton truckload of copper that was caught up in the furniture company's implosion the week before Thanksgiving.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Aberdeen, LinQ Transport of Bedford, Texas, says that their load of 44,059 pounds of copper wire is being held at a UFI facility in Lee County, and UFI refuses to return the copper.

Like many companies, UFI set up the subsidiary UFI Transportation for backhauling. Instead of driving an empty truck back to the factory after dropping off a delivery, the company would hire out the truck to haul loads on the return trip.

In this case, a UFI Transportation driver picked up the copper in Denton, Texas, on Nov. 19. Before the load could be delivered to Starkville, UFI sent out texts and emails the night of Nov. 21 firing all of its employees, more than 2,700 people. At the same time, UFI representatives reportedly told the company's truck drivers not to deliver their loads but to return to the nearest UFI facility.

According to the lawsuit, the copper was delivered to a UFI location in Tupelo. When LinQ sent one of their drivers to the location to reclaim the copper, the employee was denied access. Because UFI terminated all of its employees, LinQ said their copper — with a fair market value of around $147,000 — is not in a secured and guarded location. They fear it could be stolen.

"Plaintiff considers the taking of the copper to be an act of theft and conversion by the defendants," LinQ attorney Clark Monroe wrote in the lawsuit.

LinQ argues that the incident is not only theft, but also a breach of the contract signed by the companies, if not "malicious and intentional interference with a contract."

"The copper is unique and irreplaceable, so that it will be impossible to accurately measure, in monetary terms, the damages caused by the defendant's conduct," the lawsuit says. "The losses to the plaintiff from the defendants' conduct are likely to exceed the financial worth of the defendants."

The lawsuit calls for a preliminary court injunction for the immediate return of the load of copper. In addition, LinQ has asked to be awarded a total of over $1 million in damages — $500,000 in compensatory damages and more than $500,000 in punitive damages.

The lawsuit was filed Dec. 2 and has been assigned to Chief U.S. District Court Judge Debra Brown.

This is the fourth lawsuit to spring out of the demise of UFI. The first three are class action lawsuits alleging the furniture company violated the federal WARN Act when it fired all its employees without notice. Those were filed just days after the mass firing.

The lawsuits are based on the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires companies with more than 100 employees to give 60 days advance written notice before layoffs or shutting down.

United employees said they received no prior notice that the company planned to permanently lay off its entire workforce. The company sent a notification overnight on Monday, Nov. 21, via text messages and email telling some 2,700 employees their employment had been terminated and all benefits were ceasing — both effective immediately.

The company reportedly paid current paychecks on Nov. 25.

The first two cases have been assigned to District Court Judge Sharion Aycock, and all three seek to be certified as a class action. That certification would allow other former United employees to join the cases. Since the lawsuits are nearly identical, the court could consolidate the complaints or simply certify one and allow the plaintiffs from the other case to join.

Since there are multiple lawsuits, the judge could choose to appoint a class counsel. Now that the complaints have been filed, United has 30 days to respond. Once that deadline has passed, the judge will likely rule on the class certification request.

While United did not file a WARN Act notice when it terminated all its employees this week, it did file a notice in late June that 171 employees at the Amory facility would be laid off. The notice cited a "significant financial crisis" caused by major customers purchasing less inventory.