Parker’s gas stations, with 18 stores in coastal Georgia, mainly near Savannah, advertises a “PumpPal Club” program offering a saving of up to .10 per gallon to club members. To join, members obtain a PumpPal Club debit card linked to a checking account and must show a driver’s license; it takes about 1 to 3 days for an application to be approved. Parker’s PumpPal Club boasts well over 33,000 members according to Parker’s owner Greg Parker.
The problem is that the Georgia Department of Agriculture is seeking to prevent Parker from advertising the “club price” alongside normal prices on signs outside the stations. The Department’s Fuel and Measures Division argues that the advertising is deceptive because the club prices are not available to customers passing through the area who might be lured into pulling into a Parker station by club prices.
According to Convenience Store News:
The PumpPal Club, which allows members who sign up for its direct withdrawal debit program to receive discounts on gasoline, is a loyalty card that should be protected as “commercial free speech,” Parker’s attorney Shannen Coffin stated in court today. However, senior assistant Georgia Attorney General Devon Orland countered by saying that Parker practices deceptive advertising.
Rather than wait for an enforcement action, Parker filed suit against the Department in October:
The suit asked Chatham County Superior Court Judge Louisa Abbot to temporarily halt new rules scheduled to become effective Monday that would ban display of reduced debit-card gasoline prices.
It also asked the court to rule the defendant, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black, exceeded his power and violated Parker’s First Amendment right to truthfully advertise the slashed price of gasoline under the program.
The suit also named the state of Georgia as a defendant.
Meanwhile, the state, during an in-chambers meeting with Abbot, agreed Thursday [October 6th] not to enforce the new rule against Parker for 30 days, pending an Oct. 19 injunction hearing.
Parker claims to have received approval from former Ag Commissioner Tommy Irving and Richard Lewis of the Fuel and Measures Division for the PumpPal program.
Yesterday, Parker’s lawyer Shannen Coffin with Steptoe & Johnson in Washington, elicited from the Department that a competitor of Parker’s appears to be behind most of the complaints. [Take a look at Coffin’s resume – he’s a legitimate GOP heavy hitter in DC]
“There is no deception here, your honor,” Coffin argued in his closing remarks.
Parker’s competitors “don’t like this because Greg Parker is taking them to the cleaners,” Coffin said. “The state has no evidence of deception.”
Coffin argues that if Parker is forced to cover his signs or take them down, he will be irreparably injured and will lose business.
Georgia Senior Assistant Attorney General Devon Orland, who represents the Ag Department in this suit, stated that the Department has agreed to continue its moratorium on enforcing the advertising restriction against Parker’s until Judge Louisa Abbot of Chatham County Superior Court rules.
Abbot did pose the question of whether the state’s action disregarded consumer intelligence.
“Can we give the consumer a little credit here?” Abbot asked attorneys at the close of argument. “Who doesn’t know what a club is? …It’s not difficult stuff.”