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Exxon Corp. shorted 10,000 gas station owners $500 million by reneging on promised discounts over 12 years, a Miami federal jury ruled Tuesday. Upon the calculation of interest, the company, now known as Exxon Mobil, could be forced to pay the owners as much as $1 billion. The station owners’ victory comes after a 10-year wait and a previous hung jury in 1999. The new panel deliberated for about a day before ruling against the multinational corporation. The opposing attorneys were in conflict over whether the size of the verdict had already been decided. Eugene Stearns, attorney for the station owners, said U.S. District Judge Alan Gold previously decided before the jury trial how many pennies per gallon the gas station owners were shorted, plus interest, which amounts to a whopping $1 billion. “The interest is mandatory and the judge has already ruled,” said Stearns, pointing to a pre-trial decision. “It’s over $500 million, also. The total recovery is just a little over $1 billion.” But Larry Stewart, Exxon’s attorney, said the judge has yet to rule on the final total. Still, he acknowledged, “this will be a very, very large sum of money.” Regardless, the station owners — and their attorneys — will not get the money soon. Exxon will appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Stewart, of the Miami firm Stewart Tilghman Fox & Bianchi. “Exxon remains convinced that we gave a fair price to the dealers,” he said. “We will be vindicated on appeal. This is far from over.” Stearns agreed his clients would have another long wait before they receive any money. “This will take a year to be resolved … even though it’s really a garden-variety contract case,” said Stearns, of Miami’s Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson. Stearns was the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer, working with the Miami firm Pertnoy Solowsky & Allen. The case began in 1991, when 11 Florida station owners filed suit against Exxon for breach of contract, claiming the company reneged on a promise to charge them less for gas if they participated in a customer discount-for-cash program launched in 1982. Exxon, which merged with Mobil last year, maintains it did deliver the discounts to the dealers. The program allowed customers paying cash to save a few pennies on each gallon of gas. It was intended to help Exxon compete more effectively against smaller rivals, who were able to charge less because they accepted cash only and did not incur credit card processing costs. But the dealers claim they never received the discount. Those lost pennies added up. At a 1999 hearing, Stearns told Gold that Exxon saved $130 million a year by not delivering the discount. He said Exxon owed the average dealer about $125,000. The first trial ended with a deadlocked jury in September 1999. The evidence was substantially the same this time around, said Stewart, who chalked up the defeat to “a different jury that came to a different decision.”

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