Exxon Corp. v. Georgia Ass'n of Petroleum Retailers, Civ. A. No. 78-982 A

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
Writing for the CourtRICHARD C. FREEMAN
Citation484 F. Supp. 1008
PartiesEXXON CORPORATION v. GEORGIA ASSOCIATION OF PETROLEUM RETAILERS. GEORGIA OILMEN'S ASSOCIATION, INC. v. George D. BUSBEE et al.
Decision Date28 December 1979
Docket Number78-1077 A.,Civ. A. No. 78-982 A

484 F. Supp. 1008

EXXON CORPORATION
v.
GEORGIA ASSOCIATION OF PETROLEUM RETAILERS.

GEORGIA OILMEN'S ASSOCIATION, INC.
v.
George D. BUSBEE et al.

Civ. A. Nos. 78-982 A, 78-1077 A.

United States District Court, N. D. Georgia, Atlanta Division.

December 28, 1979.


484 F. Supp. 1009
COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED
484 F. Supp. 1010
William Simon, Robert G. Abrams, Stuart H. Harris, Howrey & Simon, Washington, D. C., Bernard J. Caillouet, Elliotte M. Harold, Jr., New Orleans, La., Earle B. May, Jr., Joseph W. Crooks, Jones, Bird & Howell, Atlanta, Ga., for Exxon Corp

Robert S. Bomar, J. David Dyson, Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, Ga., for Georgia Ass'n of Petroleum Retailers.

Fred G. Stowers, E. Hearst Roane, Jr., and John C. Hollister, Stowers, Roane & Carley, Atlanta, Ga., for Georgia Oilmen's Ass'n, Inc.

J. David Dyson, Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, Ga., for Busbee and Bolton.

Peyton S. Hawes, Jr., Robert S. Jones and Julie Childs, Cofer, Beauchamp & Hawes, Atlanta, Ga., for Petroleum Retailers.

ORDER

RICHARD C. FREEMAN, District Judge.

With the passage of the Gasoline Marketing Practices Act of 1973, Ga.Code §§ 106-1101 et seq., the state of Georgia undertook to regulate relations among actors at all levels of the statewide gasoline distribution network. Intended to protect retailers from what the legislature perceived to be unfair marketing practices by large gasoline companies and gasoline jobbers,1 the Act governs terms and conditions of franchise agreements and limits certain sales of wholesale and distress gasoline. In this action, one major gasoline supplier—Exxon Corporation—and an organization representing distributors operating in the state— Georgia Oilmen's Association, Inc. hereinafter GOA—have sued for a judicial declaration that various portions of the Gasoline Marketing Practices Act are void under the United States Constitution. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 2201, and 2202. Originally named as defendants were the Governor and Attorney General of Georgia, and the Georgia Association of Petroleum Retailers hereinafter GAPR, although only GAPR is presently a party. The action now stands before the court on cross-motions for summary judgment, Rule 56, Fed.R.Civ.P.

I. THE HISTORY OF THE CASE

Plaintiff Exxon filed Civil Action No. 78-982 on June 2, 1978, naming as defendants Georgia Governor George Busbee and Georgia Attorney General Arthur K. Bolton. GOA filed Civil Action No. 78-1077A on June 26, 1978. GOA named not only defendants Busbee and Bolton, but also GAPR. GAPR sought summary judgment almost immediately, on August 11, 1978. In late September 1978, the plaintiffs moved to consolidate the two actions and filed their own summary judgment motions. Gulf Oil Corporation submitted an amicus curiae brief, in support of plaintiffs' position, on November 27, 1978. By the end of 1978, the substantive issues in the action had been fully briefed by all sides.

Despite the parties' eagerness to obtain speedy adjudication of the dispute, an additional consideration, first raised by the court, necessitated a delay of several months. In an order entered March 6, 1979, we expressed doubt as to the existence of a genuine "case or controversy" between the parties, within the contemplation of Article III of the United States Constitution. We noted that the Act, on its face, conferred no enforcement responsibility on defendants Busbee and Bolton; we expressed concern that the private defendants were merely attempting to continue a legislative battle (which they had fought in representative capacities) in the judicial forum. Fearful

484 F. Supp. 1011
that "the plaintiffs may have brought a lawsuit in search of a defendant," March 6, 1979 order at 2, we requested that the parties submit briefs directed to the existence of a case or controversy and the propriety of allowing each of the parties to participate in the action

Exxon, GOA, and GAPR all agreed that the case could be heard and urged that all parties named in the action were properly included. In an order dated June 21, 1979, we concluded that the action could continue, but only as between the private litigants. The members of GAPR and GOA were potential plaintiffs and defendants in a civil suit for damages authorized under the Act and would have had a "sufficient stake in an otherwise justiciable controversy to obtain judicial resolution of that controversy." Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 731, 92 S.Ct. 1361, 1364, 31 L.Ed.2d 636 (1972). As organizations composed of such potential litigants, GOA and GAPR might sue and be sued, consistent with Article III, under the controlling Supreme Court cases. Simon v. Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Organization, 426 U.S. 26, 39-40, 96 S.Ct. 1917, 1924-1925, 48 L.Ed.2d 450 (1976); Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975).

At the same time, we determined that the complete absence of any actual enforcement power—criminal, civil, or administrative—in the hands of the state defendants precluded any possible "case or controversy" between them and the plaintiffs. We allowed Exxon, which had only named Busbee and Bolton as defendants, leave to amend its complaint to add defendant GAPR and dismissed the claims of all plaintiffs against the state defendants.

II. THE CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES

Purged of its Article III impurities, the action may proceed upon an evaluation of the pending summary judgment motions. Exxon's challenges to the Act are

First, Sections 1104.1,2 1104(h) and 1104(i) of the Georgia Act provide neither ascertainable standards of guilt nor adequate notice of proscribed conduct, thereby denying Exxon due process of law in violation of the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Georgia.3
Second, Sections 1104.1, 1104(h), and 1104(i), 1104(j), 1104(k) and 1107 of the Georgia Act are expressly preempted by and in conflict with the purposes and objectives underlying the federal Petroleum Marketing Practices Act 15 U.S.C. § 2801 et seq. (PMPA) and are, therefore, invalid under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI, Clause 2, of the United States Constitution.
Third, in encouraging or requiring automotive gasoline distributors to engage in conduct proscribed by the federal Sherman Act 15 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. and in frustrating the pro-competitive purposes underlying the Act, Section 1104.1 of the Georgia Act conflicts with superior federal law and is invalid under the Supremacy clause.

Exxon reply memorandum, filed December 12, 1978, at 2. GOA raises these same contentions and also alleges (1) that section 106-1104.1 conflicts with section 2(a) of the Robinson-Patman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 13(a), and (2) that section 106-1104.1 is preempted by the Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act of 1973, 15 U.S.C. § 751 et seq. hereinafter EPAA. Before proceeding to an evaluation of the plaintiffs' claims, we will briefly review the challenged portions of the Georgia Act.

III. THE GEORGIA ACT

The Georgia Marketing Practices Act contains two sets of conduct-governing provisions. After several introductory provisions and a definitional section, Ga.Code

484 F. Supp. 1012
§ 106-1103, section 106-1104 sets forth an extensive series of rules regulating gasoline marketing agreements, or franchises, between a supplier and a retailer.4 These provisions affect the contents of any franchise agreement and the allowable grounds upon which a supplier may terminate an agreement.
484 F. Supp. 1013
Ga.Code § 106-1104.1 imposes restrictions on sales by suppliers and jobbers. It reads
It shall be an unlawful predatory and unfair business practice for an automotive gasoline distributor who controls a product supply, controls the price of that product and has the power to require the purchase of that product by another automotive gasoline distributor or an automotive gasoline dealer doing business in this State to sell said product at prevailing automotive gasoline distributor prices at any time to another automotive gasoline distributor for resale to automotive gasoline dealers with the purpose or intent that said product will be sold at retail by said automotive gasoline distributor and fails to offer its automotive gasoline dealers an opportunity to purchase an equal volume of product upon the same terms and conditions, excepting expenses for advertising, credit cards and other expenses relative to its automotive gasoline dealers, when said automotive gasoline distributor is selling said product at distress prices to other automotive dealers in the dealer's marketing area.

The section is obviously somewhat ambiguous, and is consequently the target of a vigorous "void for vagueness" challenge by the plaintiffs.

Section 106-1105 gives practical effect to the standards mandated in the previous provisions by creating a cause of action for money damages by a gasoline dealer believing he has been injured in violation of the Act. The dealer may also seek declaratory or injunctive relief. Section 106-1106 states that the Act shall be applied prospectively, and section 106-1107 sets out defenses available to a distributor.

Section 106-1108 imposes certain procedural obligations upon a dealer whose franchise has been terminated but who claims a right to continue doing business under the Act. Sections 106-1109 and 106-1110 govern the applicability of the Act to franchise agreements and real property rights, respectively. Section 106-1111 allows a franchisor to sue for breach of a franchise or rental agreement. Finally, section 106-1112 imposes a two-year statute of limitations upon actions brought under sections 106-1105 and 106-1111.

IV. VAGUENESS

Plaintiffs' void-for-vagueness challenge contains two related arguments. First, they argue that words of the Georgia law are undefined, unfamiliar, or otherwise so vague that the Act "not only fails to provide adequate notice of the meaning and scope of proscribed conduct, but . . . also fails to set forth an ascertainable standard of guilt." Plaintiffs continue, ...

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  • Walker v. Bain, No. 95-CV-76273-DT.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • August 3, 1999
    ...little or no application outside of the first amendment or criminal contexts." Exxon Corp. v. Georgia Ass'n of Petroleum Retailers, 484 F.Supp. 1008, 1014 (N.D.Ga. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly explained, the purpose of the vagueness doctrine is to fairly apprise individuals of the cr......
  • Ruiz v. COM'R OF DEPT. OF TRANSP. OF CITY OF NY, No. 85 Civ. 3263(RJW).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • January 21, 1988
    ...if it is "`so vague and indefinite as really to be no rule or standard at all.'" Exxon Corp. v. Georgia Ass'n of Petroleum Retailers, 484 F.Supp. 1008, 1014 (N.D.Ga.1979) (quoting A.B. Small Co. v. Am. Sugar Refining Co., 267 U.S. 233, 239, 45 S.Ct. 295, 297, 69 L.Ed. 589 (1925)), affirmed ......
  • Cason v. Texaco, Inc., Civ. A. No. 83-936-B.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Middle District of Louisiana
    • November 7, 1985
    ...Tire Service, Inc. v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 470 F.Supp. 163, 164 (D.Conn.1979). In Exxon Corp. v. Georgia Ass'n of Petroleum Retailers, 484 F.Supp. 1008, 1018 (N.D.Ga.1979), the court held that a Georgia state law controlling "the terms of a franchise agreement"13 is not preempted by 15 U.S......
  • Johnson v. Mobil Oil Corp.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 21, 1987
    ...the entire field so there would be no applicable state law on the subject, Exxon Corp. v. Georgia Ass'n Page 159 of Petroleum Retailers, 484 F.Supp. 1008, 1017 (N.D.Ga.1979), or state law may, in fact, conflict with federal law. Such conflict occurs where compliance with both federal and st......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • Walker v. Bain, No. 95-CV-76273-DT.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • August 3, 1999
    ...little or no application outside of the first amendment or criminal contexts." Exxon Corp. v. Georgia Ass'n of Petroleum Retailers, 484 F.Supp. 1008, 1014 (N.D.Ga. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly explained, the purpose of the vagueness doctrine is to fairly apprise individuals of the cr......
  • Ruiz v. COM'R OF DEPT. OF TRANSP. OF CITY OF NY, No. 85 Civ. 3263(RJW).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • January 21, 1988
    ...if it is "`so vague and indefinite as really to be no rule or standard at all.'" Exxon Corp. v. Georgia Ass'n of Petroleum Retailers, 484 F.Supp. 1008, 1014 (N.D.Ga.1979) (quoting A.B. Small Co. v. Am. Sugar Refining Co., 267 U.S. 233, 239, 45 S.Ct. 295, 297, 69 L.Ed. 589 (1925)), affirmed ......
  • Cason v. Texaco, Inc., Civ. A. No. 83-936-B.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Middle District of Louisiana
    • November 7, 1985
    ...Tire Service, Inc. v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 470 F.Supp. 163, 164 (D.Conn.1979). In Exxon Corp. v. Georgia Ass'n of Petroleum Retailers, 484 F.Supp. 1008, 1018 (N.D.Ga.1979), the court held that a Georgia state law controlling "the terms of a franchise agreement"13 is not preempted by 15 U.S......
  • Johnson v. Mobil Oil Corp.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 21, 1987
    ...the entire field so there would be no applicable state law on the subject, Exxon Corp. v. Georgia Ass'n Page 159 of Petroleum Retailers, 484 F.Supp. 1008, 1017 (N.D.Ga.1979), or state law may, in fact, conflict with federal law. Such conflict occurs where compliance with both federal and st......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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