ST. LOUIS — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit recently said that “doc-prep" fees violate Missouri UPL statute and confirmed the application of the out-of-state class members in the lawsuit.
Robert and Janet McKeage sued TMBC LLC, Tracker Marine Retail LLC and Bass Pro Outdoor World LLC in a doc prep fee UPL class-action lawsuit after the retailer charged them a $75 document fee when selling boats and trailers with agreements overseen by Missouri law.
TMBC is the parent company of Tracker Marine Retail, which is the parent company of Bass Pro Outdoor World.
The plaintiffs said in the Missouri state court filing that the retailer was not following state law. The trial court ruled in the plaintiffs' favor after it was discovered that the retailer included this fee on 100,000 applications across the United States. Summary judgment was granted to the class and treble damages were awarded for $21,735,754. Attorney fees worth over $2.4 million were also awarded to the plaintiffs out of the common fund.
The retailer appealed that ruling, stating each contract was unique and the district court did not interpret the Missouri statute correctly. It also said that transactions outside of Missouri should not have been included in the judgment. The plaintiffs took another step with a cross-appeal.
The court decided that the McKeage's class-action claim was valid despite TMBC's appeal.
"The district court determined that the class members
were properly identified, TMBC’s conduct in charging a document fee constituted
unauthorized law business, Missouri law applied to transactions that occurred outside
Missouri, and damages should be awarded based on the entire document fee," according to the court opinion.
The opinion didn't surprise Maurice Wutscher LLP attorney Coleman Braun.
“I don’t think that it’s that surprising of a ruling to be honest with you,” Braun, who wrote an article on the case, told the St. Louis Record. “I guess some use the word ‘unique.’ But these legal prep fees as 8th Circuit recognizes, there are several state case laws that says you’re charging these type of fees by non-lawyers and it is unauthorized practice of business law.”
He said that he thinks the district and state courts did “the appropriate analysis limiting these sales agreements” that the retailer tried to conduct.
“I think that’s (the retailer’s) issue,” he said.
As for the circuit court agreeing that the case should include out-of-state applications, Braun said that lines up with the law, as well.
“Since this is the retailer’s choice, why would the court not enforce it against them," Braun said. "To me, it wasn’t that unpredictable. I think it’s well reasoned. I don’t think it’s surprising given the state law interpreting the Missouri statute. I don’t think any of the determination as class certification are out of the ordinary. I think it’s a good opinion.”
The lower court’s ruling to pay the class from the common fund was also overturned.