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Small Dealers Triumph in ExxonMobil Verdict

MIAMI, Fl. -- The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in the Exxon dealer "Discount for Cash" class action, allowing plaintiffs with small claims in a class-action suit against Exxon Mobil Corp. to participate in a jury verdict with damages that have swelled to more than $1.3 billion, according to Reuters.

The justices ruled on a 5-4 vote that federal courts can have jurisdiction over plaintiffs whose claims are worth less than $50,000 at the time a suit is filed, so long as the other required elements of jurisdiction are present and at least one plaintiff in the case meets the minimum financial requirements for amounts in controversy.

The case involves current or former direct-served gas station dealers who owned or operated an Exxon service station between March 1, 1983 and August 28, 1994, and had one or more sales agreements with Exxon.

At a February 2001 trial in Miami federal court, attorneys for the class proved to a jury that Exxon overcharged its service station owners for the wholesale price of motor fuel for 11 years and then fraudulently concealed the overcharges. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals later affirmed the verdict and orders of the trial court.

Exxon appealed to the Supreme Court, which accepted review only on the limited question of whether the trial court had jurisdiction over individual class member claims worth less than $50,000 at the time the case was filed in 1991.

The Supreme Court's decision falls on the heels of the district court's order sanctioning Exxon for its attempts to frustrate the claims process established by the court to pay class members entitled to participate in the verdict.

Almost 11,000 claims were filed before the December 1, 2005 claims deadline. The district court has appointed former United States District Court Judge Tom Scott as Special Master to administer the claims process.
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