Friday, May 4, 2001

Gasoline-Paying the Price

Chevron loses
another bid to evict
Oahu dealer

The judge's ruling clears the
way for Frank Young's case
to proceed to trial

By Tim Ruel

For the second time, a federal judge has declined to rule in favor of Chevron Corp. in the company's case against gas dealer Frank Young.

U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra yesterday denied Chevron Corp.'s motion for partial summary judgment, meaning that the lawsuit will go to trial unless both sides reach a settlement.

Chevron Chevron sued in 1999 to evict Young from a Kakaako gas station run by Young's family since 1953. Chevron, which owns the station, says Young breached his lease by failing to operate the gas station during specified hours of business. The company is also seeking damages.

Young's attorney, Eric Seitz, says the station's operating hours were not an issue for more than 40 years and the suit is retaliation for Young's criticism of Chevron's gas-pricing strategies in Hawaii.

Chevron spokesman Ken Smith said the company was simply not aware of previous violations, and that the two matters are separate.

Yesterday's ruling by Ezra allows Young to continue operating the gas station for now.

Ezra made the same ruling against Chevron last year, but allowed the company to refile a motion for summary judgment after Young completed the fact-finding stage of discovery.

In making yesterday's ruling, Ezra said that Chevron had presented a compelling case.

Chevron attorney Michael Lam discounted the defense's argument that other local Chevron dealers have kept short hours. Those violations were sporadic, while Young has shown a pattern of the behavior, he said.

Young also used a call-forwarding service to make it appear as if the gas station was open when it was not, Lam said.

But Ezra noted that summary judgments are meant to weed out frivolous lawsuits. The dispute between the two sides is significant and should be heard by a jury, Ezra said.

"I'm not ruling for Chevron and I'm not ruling for Mr. Young," Ezra said.

In the same hearing yesterday, Ezra ruled against a separate motion brought by Young to impose sanctions against Chevron. The motion, filed in February, alleges Chevron initially withheld documents that could have supported Young's claims of retaliation. The documents later surfaced in a $2 billion antitrust suit filed in 1998 by the state of Hawaii against Chevron and other oil companies. No willful misconduct was apparent on the part of Chevron, Ezra ruled. However, he noted the issue could be raised during trial.

A hearing today will determine a trial date.

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