Retailer's OPEC Suit Dismissed

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Retailer's OPEC Suit Dismissed

BIRMINGHAM -- A judge dismissed a Birmingham retailer's price-fixing lawsuit against OPEC, saying the oil cartel was not properly served with court papers.

Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon ruled that the 2-year-old antitrust lawsuit, which received national and international attention, cannot go forward because the summons and complaint were sent to the Vienna-based organization by registered mail with a return receipt, a notification insufficient under Austrian law, according to the Birmingham News.

Carl Prewitt, who owns Eastwood Texaco and other convenience stores, initially won the suit by default March 2001 after OPEC representatives failed to attend a hearing. A retired federal judge hearing cases in Birmingham ruled that OPEC members colluded to influence oil prices, and blocked OPEC from implementing agreements on crude oil production.

The action caught OPEC's attention. The case was revived and OPEC lawyers in March asked Clemon to toss the suit. Clemon's order does not prevent Prewitt from filing another suit.

The agreement that established OPEC headquarters in Vienna includes an accord between Austria and OPEC that legal papers and suits must come only through diplomatic channels, the ruling said. That essentially allows the Austrian government to decide unilaterally which lawsuits against OPEC can proceed.

Clemon noted that Prewitt never sought the help of the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs in serving OPEC. Prewitt is out of the country and was unavailable for comment on the dismissal to CSNews Online.