Class Actions -- 2018

Scharfstein v. BP West Coast Products   (Ore. Ct. App.)

Class action statutory damages award

The NAM filed an amicus brief in the Oregon Court of Appeals supporting BP in an appeal of a statutory damages award that was grossly excessive and disproportionate to actual damages. The central allegation was that BP violated Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act by failing to display a 35-cent charge the stations imposed on debit card purchases. Class plaintiffs did not claim that consumers lacked notice of the 35-cent fee (there was plenty of notice throughout the gas station), but instead argued that the state’s gasoline pricing rule required notice on the stations’ street signs or fuel dispensers. Plaintiffs sought statutory “damages” in the amount of $200 per class member. The jury returned a verdict finding that BP violated the Act, and the court directed a notice and claims process that identified about 1.7 million class members, which at $200 per member, added up to around $340 million in damages. Following a retroactive change in law before the court issued its final judgment, the court identified an additional 33,000 class members with “unclaimed damages,” resulting in an extra $66 million in damages. The NAM's brief argued that the 14th Amendment has been recognized to limit statutory damages for over a century, when, as here, the damages assessed against BP bear no relationship to the gravity of its conduct, the harm caused by that conduct or any other consideration that could rationally justify a large punishment. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision, rejecting the challenge to excessive statutory damages as untimely.

Related Documents:
NAM Amicus Brief  (November 22, 2016)


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