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ARCO am/pm case settlement payout will be repeated next summer

Tom Banse
NW News Network
A mass mailing of settlement checks meant it was Christmas in midsummer for drivers who filled their tanks at Oregon ARCO stations in 2011-13.

If you were among the 1.7 million people who got a mysterious, unbidden $91.94 check in the mail recently, you may wonder if it is legitimate. It is! And the best news may be that recipients will get a similar check next summer.
The mass mailing of settlement checks over the past month was the result of a class action lawsuit. The windfall came as a surprise to many because their eligibility was determined automatically without any need for consumers to opt in. A call to the settlement administrator line confirms this is not a scam.

"If you are a class member it is because you bought gas in Oregon from an ARCO or ARCO am/pm gas station using a debit card and were charged a debit card fee," intones a robotic voice on the line.

Years ago, Portland attorney David Sugerman filed the original complaint in Multnomah County Circuit Court against ARCO's parent company, BP West Coast Products, on behalf of drivers who filled up at ARCO stations between January 2011 and August 2013. The following year (in 2014), a jury determined the oil company failed to properly disclose its 35 cent debit card fee in violation of Oregon's unlawful trade practices law. The jury verdict resulted in a penalty of $409 million.

Based on the verdict, the trial court determined that each class member was entitled to collect $200, less attorney fees. After subsequent appeals and a negotiated settlement in which BP did not admit wrongdoing, the final sum worked out to a $185 award per debit cardholder divided into two payments -- one this summer and another next summer.

Legal services contractor Epiq handled the tracking down of eligible drivers throughout the country, based largely on the debit card numbers ARCO turned over followed by subpoenas to issuing banks. Not surprisingly, the majority of check recipients were from Oregon and surrounding states. An Epiq spokesperson said it took nearly a month to print and mail the 1.7 million settlement checks. The last batch were mailed out on Aug. 12.

What happens if people who got checks threw them away instead of depositing? If that's you, you can ask for a replacement check to be mailed by contacting the claims administrator.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said unclaimed money will be split between a legal aid fund for the poor and a new watchdog nonprofit, Oregon Consumer Justice. Those two entities are already in line to get $36 million each because Epiq was unable to locate addresses for several hundred thousand gasoline customers, who paid with debit cards that could not be traced to an owner.

Rosenblum said a change in Oregon law made by the state Legislature in 2015 -- prompted partly by this very case -- made sure that unclaimed settlement funds would not revert to the payor.

"This new law prevents these funds from being returned to the wrongdoing multinational corporation," Rosenblum said in an emailed statement. "Instead, they will remain here and do more general good for consumers in Oregon."

The full title of the ARCO debit card case is: Scharfstein v. BP West Coast Products LLC.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.