KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A Georgia attorney's bid to take depositions from Pilot Flying J's top executives is "entirely premature and improper," according to a motion filed by the company late Friday.
Pilot, the Knoxville-based chain of truck stops, is facing a lawsuit in Knox County Circuit Court by several trucking firms who allege they were shorted on diesel-fuel rebates.
Earlier this month, Savannah, Ga., lawyer Mark Tate -- who represents those companies -- said he wants to take videotaped depositions of Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam, President Mark Hazelwood and former Vice President of Sales John Freeman. He sought to take the depositions this week.
A notice also indicated a desire to take the deposition of Tom Ingram, a consultant working on behalf of Pilot.
On Friday, Pilot filed a motion to quash the deposition notices. Among other things, the motion said the deposition notices are not permitted because Pilot has not filed a response to the lawsuit.
Deposing Pilot's employees before a response is filed, the motion said, "could result in the inadvertent waiver of legal defenses and would be prejudicial to Pilot's defense."
The motion also cited a pending settlement agreement Pilot reached with eight plaintiffs who had sued the company in federal court.
"If the global settlement is ultimately approved, and plaintiffs do not opt out of the settling class, the claims in this action will be resolved and this case dismissed with prejudice," the filing said. "The early discovery sought by plaintiffs through the deposition notices would likewise be mooted and made superfluous."
Pilot's motion also noted that the issues in the case are part of a federal criminal investigation. It said that Pilot employees and officers subject to civil discovery "could be confronted with a situation where they are forced to exercise their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, thereby potentially prejudicing Pilot's position in the civil case."
More than 20 companies sued Pilot in the wake of an April 15 government raid on its headquarters, in which investigators from the FBI and IRS sought evidence of rebate fraud.
Five Pilot employees have already pleaded guilty in the case, and the criminal investigation is ongoing.