Price-fixing case goes forward against major Vermont gasoline sellers

BURLINGTON, VT — A state judge denied motions to dismiss filed by each of the defendants in a class-action lawsuit alleging that several major gasoline merchants in Vermont colluded to fix prices. Vermont Superior Court Judge Helen M. Toor cleared the way for the case against R.L. Vallee, SB Collins, Wesco and Champlain Oil Company to proceed to discovery.

There have been multiple hearings and investigations into the high cost of gas in Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties, including congressional investigation spurred by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont as well as state lawmakers. These four companies have had extraordinary profits that, according to the lawsuit, cannot be explained by legitimate market forces.

In arguments on March 21, 2016, attorney Ora Nwabeuze (pronounced Wa-Bway-Zay) of Bailey & Glasser’s Washington, D.C. office, pointed to at least six distinct periods of lockstep pricing among the four companies — four of which showed parallel price increases even as the companies’ costs were declining. In her ruling (Click Here), Judge Toor noted that two periods in which gas prices charged by the four companies declined even as costs were increasing — just prior to legislative hearings into high gas prices — also “suggest a price-fixing agreement.”

The complaint alleges that the defendants must have agreed to set their wholesale prices at nearly identical levels, and that they have agreed to increase, decrease or maintain those prices at or near the same time and by the same amount. These actions have inflated prices both at the defendants’ stations and the many independent stations served by their wholesale businesses.

The parties will now exchange documents, take depositions and present expert testimony about the wholesale and retail gasoline market in Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties.

The plaintiffs and putative class are represented by a team from Bailey Glasser’s Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. offices: Michael MurphyOra NwabuezeJohn Roddy, and Patrick Muench, Joshua Simonds from Burlington Law, and attorney Robert Murphy.

Founded by Ben Bailey and Brian Glasser in 1999 in Charleston, West Virginia, Bailey & Glasser LLP has grown to include nearly 50 lawyers, with offices in seven states and the District of Columbia. The firm’s complex litigation practice focuses on high-stakes commercial litigation; contract disputes; class actions for consumers, insureds, investors, and retirement plan participants; catastrophic injury and defective product cases; antitrust; and whistleblower lawsuits.  The firm has extensive experience in product liability law, and its lawyers routinely handle legal matters for injured individuals and consumers economically harmed by defective products.

KEY FILINGS:

Motion to Dismiss:

Interlocutory Appeal:

Status Reports:

Bifurcated Discovery:

Media Coverage:

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