Update: Scharfstein v. BP West Coast Products (Oregon ARCO gas debit card fees)

There have been two important developments in our win over BP. The case involves illegal debit card charges for gas purchases at Oregon ARCO stations. Details on the history are here with a few additional posts here.

A bit of a summary first. Our claim process was a smashing success. Over 1.7 million people, roughly 83 percent of the class, made claims. That’s an awesome result in any class action.

So two things happened this month. First, the Oregon Legislature passed and Gov. Kate Brown signed HB 2700, a bill that changes how unclaimed money is handled in class actions. BP opposed the bill. Here is an awesome insider’s view of some of the many gyrations and personalities that BP hired to kill the bill. (Love the comments, especially!)

Anyway, the bill appears to apply to this case. BP disputes that, of course. So what does it mean? Well, it means that Judge LaBarre must sort out whether it applies and–if it does–how to go forward to finish what needs to be done before entry of judgment. As a lawyer who practices in these areas, I am fairly certain that the bill applies to our case. So that’s the easy part. Then comes the “Now what?” portion, and my guess is that that will slow entry of judgment.

The good news is that BP must pay 100 percent of the value of the verdict. They don’t get to keep the money. Better yet, the money goes to legal aid and other worthy related purposes to benefit consumers. Best of all, we are talking about roughly $60 million dollars.

The only downside is that it slows down our case somewhat, and it gives BP a big issue to argue on appeal. We don’t really get to choose here, so we’ll take the bitter with the sweet and move on toward wrapping everything up in the trial court. Not sure when that will be by the way. But after we get it wrapped up, BP has indicated that it will appeal. As we’ve said many times over, the appeal could take years. And of course, there is always a risk that BP will overturn the verdict on appeal.

But let’s be very clear about something: They want more fight? We got more fight. David is not intimidated by Goliath.

I mentioned two things happened. The second happened earlier this week. Judge LaBarre ruled on the fee petition. As we explained in the class notice, we were going to ask the court for no more than 20 percent, or $40 per class member.  Judge LaBarre granted part but not all of our requested fees.

Each class member’s share of fees is $35.15 or 17.57 percent. (If you want a comparison to an individual case, we usually charge individual consumers 33-40 percent, depending on whether the case settles before trial.) So when and if final payday comes around, each class member should receive $164.85, plus interest, if the case goes all way to the bitter end.

So that’s the news from the trenches. Thanks for your continuing patience. Keep in mind that we do updates on our Facebook page, so if you’re a user, you can find news there about this case and other pending major cases against KBR and Career Education Corp. If you’re a Twitter user, I am @DavidSug, though that’s not really a work account. Note that I do not offer legal advice in response to comments on our blog or on Facebook or Twitter. It’s not that I’m unwilling to answer questions. It’s more that we are required ot protect your confidentiality. And we take that seriously. So feel free to call (503.228.6474) or email me davidATdavidsugerman.com if you have questions.

-David

BP class action update: Claim time!

The claim process has started in our consumer fraud class action against BP for illegal debit card fees at Oregon ARCO stations. We’re getting a lot of calls, emails, and questions on our Facebook page.

And on top of it all, ice and snow have moved into Portland. So it looks like I may not be able to get to my office to answer calls today.

A few details and updates.

1) One common question is “How do I make a claim?

There are two ways. If we recover your name and address, you’ll get a notice that says you’re in. If you get a letter, you don’t have to do anything more to make your claim.

The notices are starting to go out this week and will continue as we get more names and addresses. We have about 500,000 letters going out this week. I’m hoping that we’ll get another million names and addresses.

To keep your data secure, I do not have direct access to it, so I can’t look up whether we’ve recovered your data.

For those people whose records we do not recover, you will need to file a claim form. Very important: We can’t file for you because you need to fill out the form.

Here is the link to the claim form

2) More information

The official court-approved website is here

FAQ’s on the official website are here.

If you want more of a flavor of the history of this fight, you can read blog posts collected here.

3) What will consumers who make claims get?

The jury verdict means a maximum of $200 for each consumer who paid the illegal debit card fee between January 1, 2011 and August 30, 2013. The court may deduct up to $40 from each claim to contribute to fees and expenses. We’re asking the court to order BP to pay all the fees–we don’t know how the court will rule. Bottom line: Depending on the court’s ruling, each person who makes a valid claim will get $160-200.

4) When do I get my money?

Great question. Don’t go spending it yet. BP tells us they will appeal. That may well take years. If BP wins on appeal, we may not collect a dime. (And by “we,” I mean you and me!) But if we keep winning, you also get interest at 9 percent on your claim.

5) What’s next?

We hope to finish the claim process by December 31. There is an attorney fee hearing in February. (Sorry, I don’t have the date at fingertips but will make sure it gets posted on the official site.)

We’re pleased with our progress, but there is far to go. My promise to you: Our legal team will keep fighting until we see this thing through.  We’ll also do our best to answer questions and get back to you, but we’re buried in this, so please be patient.

Best contact for me is david@davidsugerman.com or by phone 503.228.6474. Thanks for you patience and your support.

David Sugerman

BP ARCO class action: A straight-up win for consumers

On Friday, January 31, 2014, the jury returned its verdict in favor of BP Oregon ARCO and am-pm minimarket gas purchasers. The jury found that BP recklessly violated the Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act. The 2.9 million class members are each entitled to make claims for $200. Media reports are here (OregonLive), here (KOIN-6), and here (KATU-2 pretrial)

Yes, that is a $580 million result. It is fair to say we are pleased. And proud.

We’re getting a lot of questions. I’ll try to answer some here.

So what’s next?

We are due back in court on March 7 to discuss the next round of proceedings. In the near future, we’ll start a claim form process. It’s really important that you file a claim form once the claim process opens. We do not know yet when that will happen, but we’ll note a number of resources for you here.

How do I stay informed?

We’ll continue to post updates here on this blog. We also add updates on our Facebook page. If you’re a user, like us there, and you’ll get updates and links back to the longer updates here.

You should also register with the official information page to receive official update information.

Do I need to take any action to protect my rights?

If you meet the class definition, you do not. We don’t know what requirements the court will set to prove claims. If you have access to receipts or bank records showing a gas debit card purchase with a transaction fee at Oregon ARCO or am-pm stations, it would be wise to save those documents. It may help you prove your claim.

When will consumers see their money?

Good question. BP has announced its intention to appeal. While the claim process could start as early as March (or maybe later), an appeal could string this out for years. That is why registration is important.


A few parting thoughts

We are deeply appreciative of the service provided by the jurors who served for three weeks in the trial in front of Hon. Jerome LaBarre. The entire case shows that a small group of determined consumers can take on a corporate giant like BP and have a fair trial in Oregon.

Further updates?

Well sure. When we know more, we’ll post it.

David Sugerman

BP Class Action Update: Class Notice

Finally. Class notice has started in our class action against BP. The case involves illegal debit card charges levied on Oregon gas purchasers. We’re suing under the Unlawful Trade Practices Act because BP violates the Oregon rules governing gasoline price advertising.

Here is a link to the class action notice website.

Trial is set to begin January 14, 2014. If we win, members of the class may be eligible to claim up to $200 for these illegal transactions. More detail as it becomes available. For those in the class, please visit the website. You might want to register there so that the administrator can contact you if that becomes important.

Want more information about the case? Go here and here.

Feel free to call us or email if you think you might be part of the class or if you have stories to share. I am lead counsel for the class.

 

David Sugerman

BP class action certified for ARCO station debit card fees

In our long running consumer case, Scharfstein v. BP West Coast Products, Judge LaBarre ruled late last week that the case may go forward as a class action. Judge LaBarre appointed David Sugerman and Tim Quenelle to serve as class counsel. Notice to the class is expected to go out in early November, and trial is set for January 14, 2014.

In the case, consumers claim that BP violated the Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act by improperly selling and advertising gas at ARCO stations and am-pm minimarkets. The gas stations advertise their prices without condition, but when consumers pay with debit cards, they are charged a fee–now $.35–on top of the gas purchase price. The consumers claim that the failures to disclose the charges and the addition of the charges on top of the total gas purchase violate Oregon law.

The class seeks $200 per consumer.

There is far to go on this case. If you have experience with these charges and would like to share your story with us, could you drop me a line or call us (503.228.6474)?

-David

Case update: Consumer fraud case against BP headed to trial

Yesterday, Judge LaBarre ruled from the bench on the parties’ motions for summary judgment in our pending consumer fraud against BP. He denied all motions. The case is going to trial.

Background on the case is here, here, and here. It arises out of BP gas sales at ARCO and am-pm mini-markets.

BP charges debit card customers a $.35 debit card fee but does not disclose the charge on its street signs, on its price signs or on its pumps.

Consumers argue that BP’s undisclosed debit card charge violates Oregon rules on gasoline sales.  The consumer fraud claim arises under the Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act, ORS 646.608(1)(u).

The Court deferred hearing the class certification motion until August 30, but that motion is fully briefed and ready to go. The Court took up the summary judgment motions. BP argued that it was entitled to summary judgment for a number of reasons, including that it wasn’t required to tell consumers that debit card users would be charged a fee on gas purchases.

A three-hour oral argument put both parties’ positions to the test.

Judge LaBarre announced his decision from the bench, ordered BP to obtain electronic data, and set a schedule for the remainder of the case, including a trial that starts January 13, 2014.

Good progress, to be sure. But far to go.

David Sugerman

Oregonian on BP consumer fraud class action

The Oregonian picked up the filing of the BP class action. Their report is here on OregonLive. More on the case–including a copy of the initial complaint (pdf)–is here. A few clarifications:

1. The case covers only debit card purchases of gasoline at Oregon ARCO and AM/PM minimarket stations.

2. Under Oregon law, we must give defendants 30 days’ notice and allow them the opportunity to fix the harm that they have caused. If they do not do so within the time, we may seek money damages for the class. We will amend to seek damages for the proposed class, unless BP wants to make things right quickly.

3. If you have questions or stories you would like to share, please use this contact information to give us a shout. (We’re a small outfit,  so it may take us a while to get back to you.)

BP faces Oregon consumer fraud class action

You pull into one of BP’s Oregon ARCO or AM?PM stations, and fill up with gas. The street signs tells you that gas costs a specific amount; maybe $3.50 per gallon. BP’s ARCO and AM-PM advertise some of the lowest gas prices in Oregon. At the pump, the price per gallon matches the sign you saw from the road.

So maybe you buy five gallons. But when you pay with your debit card, you’re assessed a debit card charge of $.35 or .45. So the price per gallon just went up seven to nine cents per gallon over the amount advertised.

BP markets ARCO gas as lower cost. The debit card fee does more than just hurt consumers. It also puts honest competitors at a disadvantage.

Oregon law is clear. Street signs advertising gas prices are supposed to be truthful. The prices charged at the pump are supposed to be the prices that Oregon consumers actually pay. Gas stations have to disclose add-on charges or conditions on their prices.

Oregon BP ARCO and AM PM mini-markets are not doing it. They’re violating Oregon law with every debit card charge.

Yes, it’s only a small charge. But lots of small charges add up to a lot of money. And BP is a master at collecting a lot of money.

Somewhere along the way, things went wrong. And somehow BP and its ilk decided that they were entitled to ignore state law and charge illegal add-on charges. For consumers, this nickel and diming amounts to a series of bites out of us and our bank accounts. It’s dishonest.  To my way of thinking, the undisclosed add-on is a form of corporate corruption.

Fortunately, Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act provides a means of stopping this type of behavior. And yes, we filed the consumer fraud class action this week against BP because Oregon consumers deserve better. For those interested here is a pdf version of the complaint: Complaint Scharfstein v BP

One of the things about our commitment to handling consumer fraud class actions is that there never seems to be shortage of work for me and my law firm. Consumer fraud class actions are challenging cases, but there is something satisfying about being part of a small group of consumer lawyers willing to stand up against predation by the likes of BP. That’s why we are working late into the waning hours of 2011.

I am pleased to be joined on the case by my friend and frequent collaborator, Oregon consumer attorney Tim Quenelle. Tim and I handled the Comcast late fee class action together. We make a good team.

As with all of our major impact and consumer fraud class actions, I imagine this will be a long and hard-fought case. So this is how we close out 2011 and roll into 2012. We’ll report on it from time-to-time here. Feel free to check back for updates.

Also, if you have been bitten by the BP debit card charge in Oregon, please feel free to let us know via comment or through contact. We would love to hear your story.