Artfully pleaded MMPA claim cannot escape preemption
Plaintiff’s lawsuit was essentially about octane.
She claimed that an unfair practice occurs every time a consumer buys higher octane fuel from single-hose gas pump and incidentally receives a residual amount of lower octane fuel lingering in the hose from a prior fueling.
In her single-count MMPA lawsuit, Plaintiff sought money and an injunction on behalf of a class of Missouri consumers who bought higher grade gasoline from the Defendants (retail-gas-station operators).
Preemption posed a problem for Plaintiff. The federal Petroleum Marketing Practices Act expressly preempts state-law requirements regarding labeling and marketing of gasoline octane rating that are not “the same as” the PMPA’s requirements.
Although Plaintiff carefully omitted the word “octane” in her class-action complaint, Judge Kays held that federal law preempted her MMPA claim:
Although Plaintiff has successfully avoided using the word “octane” anywhere in the Complaint, it does not change the fact that the essence of her MMPA claim is inextricably connected with octane disclosures or labeling. To begin, the Court notes there is no meaningful difference between a gasoline’s “grade/brand” and its octane rating. A gasoline’s grade/brand is indistinguishable from octane levels; its “grade” is synonymous with its octane rating. … [I]n conducting a preemption analysis, a court is not required to accept a plaintiff’s artful pleading when it is clear from the totality of her allegations that her claim falls within a preempted area.
Johnson v. MFA Petroleum Co., 2014 WL 1292453, at *6 (W.D. Mo. Mar. 28, 2014).
Bottom line, Plaintiff’s claim was expressly and impliedly preempted because it would force Defendants to make additional disclosures regarding the pump’s inability to dispense the full amount of the selected grade or to remove octane disclosures altogether. And that, of course, would impose a state-law requirement that is not the same as the PMPA’s requirements.