Judge in ‘hot fuel’ case to rule on defendants’ dismissal request

| 1/16/2008

A judge in U.S. District Court is considering whether to grant a motion from oil companies and fuel retailers who want her to dismiss the case against the sale of “hot fuel.”

Judge Kathryn Vratil of the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, KS, heard oral arguments Friday, Jan. 11, from lawyers representing consumers on one side and the defendant oil companies and retailers on the other side.

Attorneys representing truckers and other consumers said their clients have a right to their day in court because of an alleged consumer rip-off known as “hot fuel” that has been taking place for decades.

Hot fuel refers to gasoline and diesel sold at the retail pump without compensation for volume changes caused by temperature.

At every other level sale prior to the retail sale of motor fuels, oil companies and retailers compensate for temperature-based volume changes using a standard of 60 degrees. Sometimes, fuel can reach temperatures of 90 degrees or more in warmer states.

Current law neither requires nor prohibits temperature compensation at retail pumps, and the retail-fuel industry in the U.S. has been reluctant to move toward the 60-degree standard.

Attorneys for the consumers believe a standard measurement would protect consumers, and stated as such in a written response in opposition to the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

“Motor fuel cannot be measured reliably by volume alone because of the significant thermal expansion it undergoes with changes in temperature,” the consumers’ response stated.

Fuel retailers and their suppliers say they are merely following current laws, and, until those laws are changed, there is nothing wrong with selling fuel by volume only.

John Siebert, project leader for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Foundation, is among those who hope the judge refuses to dismiss the case. Although OOIDA is not a plaintiff in the case, some OOIDA members are.

Siebert and the OOIDA Foundation have been called the unofficial “discoverers” of the hot-fuel issue along with truckers who keep track of their fill-ups and fuel mileage.

Judge Vratil did not indicate when she would come back with a ruling.

Even if Vratil rules in favor of the plaintiffs, Siebert said he believes the defendants will fight it and drag the issue out in the courts for a long time.

Meanwhile, the National Conference on Weights and Measures continues to study whether to provide language to states to provide a voluntary system of temperature compensation at the retail pump.

The weights and measures group narrowly failed to garner a clear majority at its annual conference in July 2007 in Salt Lake City.

The voluntary effort, if it gets approved, would be seen as a precursor to stronger requirements down the road.

Consumers involved in the lawsuits want to require temperature compensation in a timely manner. They also want oil companies and retailers to pay back any ill-gotten gains from the sale of hot fuel.

– By David Tanner, staff writer