Writing that a lower court did not abuse its discretion, the Connecticut Supreme Court let stand an order granting class certification for a lawsuit against Standard Petroleum for allegedly over-charging its customers.
In siding with Faugno Acquistion, now known as Woodway Texaco LLC, and Kennynick LLC against Standard Petroleum, the state Supreme Court rejected Standard Petroleum’s claim that Superior Court Judge Donna Heller performed only a cursory review of the claims and evidence before granting class certification.
Writing for the state’s high court, Justice Andrew McDonald said: “We conclude that the trial court’s analysis was sufficiently rigorous, and that its conclusion that the predominance requirement was met was not an abuse of discretion.”
The court issued its unanimous, 25-page ruling Thursday.
At issue are claims that Standard Petroleum did not apply the federal volumetric ethanol excise tax credit before charging its customers, and continued to charge its customers the full federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. The tax credit, effective as of January 2005, reduced the tax on motor fuels that contain 10 percent alcohol from 18.4 cents to 13.3 cents per gallon. The tax later increased to 13.9 cents per gallon.
The plaintiffs allege breach of contract, misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, unfair trade practices and violations of the Petroleum Franchise Act. They also claim the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practice Act was violated when the company allegedly failed to apply a credit to the federal gasoline tax that it charged class members, and improperly charged class members the state gross receipts tax on purchases. The plaintiffs requested the court certify a class action. The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages for past losses, punitive damages and injunctive relief prohibiting Standard Petroleum from conduct that would cause future losses.
McDonald also gave the court’s reasoning on the issue of whether there was a breach of peace on the part of Standard Petroleum. The company argued the burden of individualized proof of breach of peace was never met.
“With regard to the element of breach, we note that the plaintiffs contend that, because the defendant improperly charged federal and state tax fees to the class as a whole, this is a class-wide breach that can be established by common proof,” McDonald wrote, adding, “Whether the plaintiffs actually can prove this, or whether the defendant will successfully defend against the allegation, goes to the merits and extends beyond ensuring that the class certification requirements are met. We are not persuaded that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that the predominance requirement has been met for this count.”
Standard Petroleum was represented by Mary Bartholic and Thomas Witherington, both of whom were with Hartford-based Cohn Birnbuam Shea at the time of oral arguments. Witherington did not respond to a request for comment Friday. Bartholic recently left Cohn Birnbaum and could not be reached by press time.
John Morgan of Stamford-based Barr & Morgan represented the defendants. He did not respond to a request for comment.