ST. LOUIS — The Missouri Merchandising Protections Act (MPA) may be a thing of the
past if state Senate Bill 5 clears the chamber and is ultimately signed into law by Gov. Eric Greitens.
The MPA, which was enacted in 1967, creates a legal recourse for people
like Shannon and Christopher Leslie of Greenwood who dealt with a business with dishonest practices. The couple purchased a car in August 2015 from All Cars
LLC in nearby Raytown. As part of the deal, the couple traded in their old car
and the dealer promised to pay off the balance owed on the trade-in vehicle. In
the end All Cars, allegedly broke its promise by never paying off the loan
on the trade-in car. All Cars not only allegedly kept the trade-in vehicle without paying
it off, the business closed, leaving the Leslies with a payment for
their old car, the new car they bought from All Cars and no recourse other than to pursue a legal claim under the MPA.
The proposed bill would defer Missouri interpretation of law and rely instead on the interpretations offered by the federal government through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
According to the Missouri Association
of Consumer Attorneys, without the MPA the Leslies and thousands of other
residents of the state would be left without legal recourse for dishonest
business practices. Bryce Bell, an attorney who specializes in protecting
consumers, said that the couple's case is a familiar story.
“The vast majority of (the cases filed under the MPA) are single, individual
claims where people have gotten screwed,” Bell told the St. Louis Record.
“The real harm (in passing Senate Bill 5) is the vast majority of consumers
that won’t have anyone to fight for them.”
There has been a lot of talk in Missouri lately about frivolous lawsuits and out-of-state plaintiffs, also known as “tourist litigants,” filing class-action suits in the state, but the changes to the MPA won’t have a real effect
on those cases, Bell said.
“Who’s going to be left out in the cold here are the most vulnerable
citizens in Missouri, the people that don’t have the money to pay for a lawyer;
the people where the economics simply don’t work," he said. "And
those cases will never be brought and those businesses will get away with
whatever unfair practices they’re engaged in.”
Attorneys opposed to Senate Bill 5 are concerned that the pending
legislation and the changes it would bring for the state of Missouri seem out
of place. Missouri is known for its efforts to eschew the rulings of the
federal government, including a failed attempt in 2013 to nullify federal gun laws in the
“First of all, it’s strange that this proposed bill seems to abdicate Missouri
jurisprudence,” Bell said. “We’re in an era now where anything to do with the
federal government is toxic, and yet (Senate Bill 5 is) seeking to defer
states' rights and Missouri jurisprudence to the FTC, which is highly unusual.”
The Missouri Association of Consumer Attorneys has commented on the proposed
changes to the MPA and what Senate Bill 5 would actually mean for consumers by
releasing nearly 20 stories of victims who filed suit under the MPA to collect
There are other legal arguments being made concerning the MPA and Senate
Bill 5, according the Americans for Tort Reform Association (ATRA). The group compiles
its own list of lawsuits that it calls “flimsy MPA lawsuits filed in recent
years.” The list from ATRA includes lawsuits against Nestle and the Hershey Co.
for packages that aren’t completely full, although packages correctly state the
amount of food contained within. The argument from attorneys is that the
non-transparent packaging misleads consumers into thinking they are purchasing more
snack food than they actually are.
“With this provision, our courts can rely on well thought-out decisions made
by regulatory agencies and decades of guidance from the Federal Trade
Commission,” Jennifer Artman, a Kansas City-based attorney who testified in
support of Senate Bill 5 on ATRA’s behalf, said. “It removes the very real risk
of a plaintiffs' lawyer bringing a private lawsuit claiming a business’s action
is unfair or misleading when that same action is permitted by a government
Bell and attorneys like him who file lawsuits on behalf of consumers
“If you look at the unfairness standard that’s applied by the FTC, it’s
really not sufficiently precise, to give any kind of meaningful guidance to
people,” he said. “So in effect, I think that’s going to potentially lead to
more litigation about exactly what the unfairness standard is as it relates to
the FTC’s current interpretation. So that’s problematic from the get-go.”
James Muehlberger, a Missouri litigator who has defended several of MPA
cases and works with Artman, said that there are a lot of MPA class-actions
going through the state courts.
“These are lawyer-driven claims that fight over whether a company can fit
more Skittles or Hot Tamales in a box or if cupcake mix or cleaning products
qualify as ‘natural,’” he said.
Senate Bill 5 is still has a way to go before any changes are made to the
MPA in Missouri, but it’s certain with so much litigation hanging in the
balance, both sides will have more to say.