ExxonMobil Class Action Victory
Tuesday, September 18, 2001
Corr Cronin was successful this week in winning a total summary judgment of dismissal of all claims in a class action case filed against Exxon. Essentially the plaintiffs were trying to claim that for years in Eastern Washington Exxon had sold misbranded gasoline (e.g., charged premium prices for regular gasoline). Corr Cronin partner Guy Michelson handled the case and argued the motion for Exxon; associate, Kelsey Joyce, assisted with the briefing.Corr Cronin client ExxonMobil sells gasoline in Washington State through independent distributors. Gasoline is sold to independent distributors at commercial "racks" which may also sell a number of other brands of gasoline. The distributors are then free to sell the gasoline to branded Exxon service stations with whom it establishes contracts. British Petroleum follows the same practice.
One such independent distributor in Eastern Washington was Ed Glenn Distributor, Inc. ("EGD"). EGD was an independent distributor for both ExxonMobil and BP gas. Plaintiffs alleged that EGD misbranded gas by delivering BP gas to Exxon branded stations and visa versa, and by delivering low octane gas to high octane pumps. A disgruntled former truck driver for EGD reported this "misbranding" in March 1999. ExxonMobil investigated the allegations, found them to merit attention, and immediately attempted to terminate EGD's distributorship.In January 2000, plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit in Chelan County Superior Court, seeking to certify a dealer class consisting of 20 to 30 Exxon/BP service station owners purchasing gasoline from EGD, and a consumer class of several thousand consumers who purchased gasoline from these stations over the past 10 years, seeking to recover millions of dollars in alleged damages. The suit named EGD, and also named ExxonMobil and BP for failing to adequately monitor and audit EGD's activities in order to prevent or detect misbranding. Causes of action were asserted against ExxonMobil/BP under a potpourri of legal theories including agency, breach of express and implied warranties, fraud, criminal profiteering, negligence, and alleged violations of the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
Following targeted written and deposition discovery, and prior to the hearing on class certification, ExxonMobil and BP filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to dismiss all of plaintiffs claims against them, leaving EGD in the litigation. The thrust of the motion was that ExxonMobil was under no legal duty to monitor or audit the independent distributor, and that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate any actual damages as a result of misbranding. On September 18, 2001, following 2 and 1/2 hours of oral argument on the motion, the Honorable John E. Bridges dismissed plaintiffs claims against ExxonMobil and BP in their entirety. Needless to say, the client is pleased.
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