BURLINGTON, Vt. — Four Vermont fuel distributors have agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit that alleges they engaged in price fixing.
In 2015, a class-action lawsuit was filed against four companies—R.L. Vallee Inc., owner of the Maplefields chain; SB Collins Inc., owner of Jolley c-stores; Champlain Farms/Wesco Inc.; and Champlain Oil Co., operator of Jiffy Mart stores, which was acquired in 2018 by Global Partners.
According to the law firms of Bailey Glasser LLP and The Burlington Law Practice PLLC, which brought the class-action lawsuit, the defendants matched up their wholesale fuel prices, which in turn caused retail fuel prices in Chittenden and nearby counties in the northwest part of the state to rise at the stations the distributors owned and those they supplied. At the time the lawsuit was filed, the four companies controlled about 64% of the retail gas stations in Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties and dominated the wholesale market, according to the plaintiffs. The lawsuit alleged the improper profit earned by these companies could have exceeded $100 million from 2005 to 2015.
In November 2015, the distributors filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence supporting the price fixing allegations.
But this October, the distributors agreed to a proposed settlement with no admission of wrongdoing, according to Vermont news site Seven Days. The agreement, which was filed in Vermont Superior Court and still needs to be approved by a judge, would have the companies pay $1.5 million to gasoline consumers in northwestern Vermont. Any customers who owned a car, bought gas from one of the four companies and lived in Chittenden, Franklin or Grand Isle counties between April 2012 and June 2015 are eligible to submit a claim. The law firms that brought the original suit could receive up to $500,000 of the settlement sum.
The proposed settlement would also require the distributors to follow written antitrust policies and provide antitrust training to employees who handle petroleum product pricing.
In the agreement, the distributors “maintain that they have acted completely independently of each other, are competitors in the sale of gasoline, have not conspired in any way, have set gas prices fairly based on existing market forces and did not violate any laws.”
Rodolphe "Skip" Vallee, CEO of R.L. Vallee, Saint Albans, Vt., said in a written statement provided to Seven Days that the allegations were "misguided" and "outrageous."
“As we have said all along, we steadfastly, adamantly and completely deny the allegations in the complaint," Vallee said. "After four years of litigation, involving the production of hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, hundreds of thousands of emails and access to hundreds of witnesses of our company and others, there is not a single company email, document or witness documenting or testifying to price fixing. There is no proof because it simply did not happen."