Fuel retailers and oil companies have asked a panel of
federal judges to consolidate numerous lawsuits relating to "hot fuel." As that
process plays out over the next two months or more, individual lawsuits against
those companies will slow to a standstill.
Since the first two lawsuits were filed in December 2006 -
one in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California and one
in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey - nearly 30 similar
lawsuits have been filed in other courts.
The consumer plaintiffs - many of whom are owner-operators -
are alleging that fuel retailers and oil companies are ripping off the public
by selling fuel at temperatures above a 60-degree standard set a century ago.
The 60-degree standard defines a gallon of fuel as 231 cubic
inches, and containing a certain amount of Btu. Warmer fuel expands, which in
effect dilutes the energy content, or Btu.
Attorneys on both sides of the hot fuel issue agree that the
lawsuits should be consolidated and transferred to one court. They also agree
that further action on individual lawsuits be stayed until the Judicial Panel
on Multidistrict Litigation decides where and how the case should proceed.
But that is where the agreement ends.
Attorneys for the fuel retailers and oil companies want
pre-trial hearings to take place in U.S. District Court for the District of New
Jersey, while the plaintiff groups want pre-trial proceedings to take place in
the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California.
The defendants' filed their motion requesting consolidation
Feb. 22, and the plaintiffs filed a response to that on March 23.
"It's not unusual for federal courts to consolidate those
for pre-trial discovery," George Zelcs, attorney for the plaintiffs in
California and New Jersey, told Land Line.
"Whether or not there is one case or 110 cases really
doesn't make a difference," Zelcs said. "The other cases that have been filed
are basically duplicative."
The multidistrict panel of judges meets about every other
month. The first available hearing date for the hot fuel litigation will be in
Attorneys for Exxon Mobil Corp., Amerada Hess Corp. and Motiva
Enterprises LLC, want the case to be heard in New Jersey in an effort to reduce
litigation costs, eliminate duplication in other courts, and to avoid
conflicting rulings in other jurisdictions.
The lawyers for the consumers believe California is the best
place for the hearings because "California's status as the single largest
consumer of motor fuel, California's warmer climate, (and) recent media reports
regarding potential foul play by one company's decision not to market
temperature-compensation equipment in California."
Another reason given by the plaintiffs is a growing interest
in the hot fuel issue by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, R-CA, who has questioned
equipment manufacturer Gilbarco Veeder-Root about withdrawing its
- By David Tanner,