Hot fuel lawsuits consolidated to Kansas courtroom

| 6/20/2007

A federal judicial panel has ruled to consolidate the many “hot fuel” lawsuits, assigning the case to a single judge in a federal courtroom in the state of Kansas.

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decided Monday, June 18, to consolidate complaints made by consumer plaintiffs against nearly 100 fuel retailers and oil companies in 12 lawsuits and 21 “tagalong” lawsuits to the U.S. District Court in the District of Kansas.

The plaintiffs seek class status in an effort to force retailers to equip all retail fuel pumps with automatic temperature-compensation equipment.

“Hot fuel” refers to motor fuel sold at retail pumps above 60 degrees. Click here for an expanded definition and information about the effects of temperature on fuel volume.
The consolidation puts all related actions and common questions of fact before one person, Judge Kathryn H. Vratil. Judge Vratil will be given time and attention to resolve the issues, panel chairman W. Terrell Hodges wrote Monday.

Hodges said consolidation is necessary “in order to eliminate duplicative discovery; avoid inconsistent pretrial rulings, especially with respect to class certification; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.”

OOIDA Foundation Project Leader John Siebert, who, with the help of owner-operators and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, recorded fuel temperatures in 46 states, was the first to bring the issue of hot fuel to the public’s attention in an investigative series by The Kansas City Star.

Siebert said he is pleased to see the case moving forward.

“OOIDA is glad to see the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation found sufficient merit in the hot fuel cases to consolidate the cases to one district court and one judge,” Siebert told Land Line Magazine. “We believe this case is very important to our membership and are glad the judge assigned to the case will have sufficient time to give it the deliberation it deserves.”

Back in March, retailers and oil companies asked the judicial panel to consolidate after the first two lawsuits filed in December 2006 in California and New Jersey spawned additional actions in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Common to the lawsuits are plaintiffs seeking court orders to require fuel retailers and oil companies to install automatic temperature-compensation equipment on all fuel pumps.

A legislative effort is also underway, as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, filed an amendment Monday to a House energy bill – HR6 – to force compliance.

Temperature-compensation equipment would ensure that consumers get a consistent amount of fuel energy at retail pumps according to the same 60-degree standard that wholesalers and refiners use to buy and sell fuel above the rack.

Siebert has been a strong supporter of temperature compensation for some time, often citing Canada as an example of how retailers acted voluntarily when studies showed average fuel temperatures were at or below 60 degrees.

Without temperature compensation, retailers and oil companies make ill-gotten profits from expanded fuel sold at temperatures higher than 60 degrees, according to the first lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California.

Judge Vratil has not yet issued a time frame for proceeding with the batch of consolidated cases. Thirty-six of the nearly 100 defendant retailers and oil companies have deemed centralization appropriate, according to the federal judicial panel.

In the meantime, Siebert is scheduled to present information on hot fuel and temperature compensation July 8-12 at the National Conference on Weights and Measures, a 2,400-member organization that ensures uniformity and fairness in the marketplace.

– By David Tanner, staff writer