US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court last month upheld a St. Clair couple’s class action suit against Tracker Marine Boat Center (TMBC), a Bass Pro subsidiary.

Robert and Janet McKeage, St. Clair, filed the class action suit against TMBC, LLC, in January 2009. On May 21, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s award of more than $21.7 million. There were approximately 100,000 people who were part of the class action suit.

The McKeages and other plaintiffs were represented by David L. Baylard, attorney with Baylard, Billington, Dempsey & Jensen, P.C. of Union; and Steve Garner and Chandler Gregg, attorneys with Strong-Garner-Bauer, P.C. of Springfield, Mo.

The McKeages filed the suit seeking damages for unlawful charges, in the form of “document fees,” in connection with purchases of boats, boat trailers and accessories or recreational vehicles since January of 2004.

In May 2008, the couple purchased a boat from the Tracker Boat Center inside the Bass Pro Shop in St. Charles. The McKeages were charged a $75 document fee.

According to court records from the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the McKeages were unhappy with their purchase and contacted Baylard to rescind the sale. After reviewing the contract, Baylard filed suit in the St. Charles County Circuit Court contending that the document fees violated state statute.

According to the McKeage suit, document fees are a separate charge often levied by banks and automobile and boat dealers for preparing legal documents involved in the transactions. Document fees are an “unauthorized practice of law in Missouri since the 1950s” because the legal documents are prepared by someone not licensed to practice law.

Baylard explained that Tracker Marine charged varying amounts in document fees to different customers depending on the number of items purchased and the total price of the items. The fees ranged from $25 to $150, or more, per customer.

The class action suit sought that illegal charges to customers be reimbursed, as well as triple damages as allowed by Missouri statute.

The McKeages asked the state court to certify a nationwide class action, but the state courts only certified the class action for purchases made in Missouri.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court and the court agreed, noting that the Missouri law for standardized contracts is used nationwide.

According to Baylard, the McKeages’ case was certified as an international class action suit by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2012 based on the 73 dealerships involved in the unlawful activity, two of which were located in Canada and all of which used a standard form contract applying Missouri law to their transactions.

The case was thereafter transferred to the federal court system by TMBC, LLC, where the McKeages obtained a summary judgment on behalf of the class in September 2015.

Under the judgment, it was ruled that plaintiffs’ attorney fees would be paid in the more than $21.7 million “common fund” awarded to the McKeages and other plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs contend TMBC should pay the attorney fees.

Baylard noted that the McKeages filed an appeal of that ruling and that motion will be heard in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.