January 20, 2017 10:20 AM, EST

Pennsylvania Logistics Company Battles Ryder in Court Over Trade Secrets

A federal judge in Ohio has issued a split decision in the legal brawl that began last year after Pittsburgh Logistics Systems found out it was losing a customer that court records indicate accounted for 32% of its business.

AK Steel notified PLS in July that it was terminating its agreement with the Cranberry-based company and beginning a search for another logistics firm that could handle the more than 700 truckloads PLS arranged each day for the West Chester, Ohio, steel producer.

PLS ranks No. 23 on the Transport Topics top list of the largest freight brokerage firms.

Since then, PLS, AK Steel, and its new supplier, Ryder Integrated Logistics, have battled in Butler County Common Pleas Court and federal courts in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati over whether the names of trucking companies used to move steel and other information are PLS trade secrets that are off limits to AK Steel and Ryder.

Ryder Systems ranks No. 13 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.

PLS accused AK Steel and Ryder of illegally using the information to help the new logistics provider take over when PLS’s contract expired Jan. 18.

AK Steel has done business with PLS since 1995. The steel producer notified PLS in October that Ryder would be taking over.

In Cincinnati on Jan. 18, U.S. District Court Judge Michael R. Barrett ruled that the names of trucking firms PLS used to move AK Steel products were not defined as trade secrets in the 2008 agreement between the steel producer and the logistics company. He refused PLS’s request for an injunction prohibiting AKS from using that information.

But the judge ruled that PLS may be able to prove that routing guides — which contain information on trucking companies’ capabilities and establishes a ranking for which carriers to call first — are trade secrets.

So he granted PLS’s request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting AK Steel from using the guides.

PLS spokeswoman Caitlin Orosz said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

The company’s website indicates PLS was founded in 1991 and handles more than 1 million loads each year. It has branch offices in 10 other cities.

AK Steel did not respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.