Missouri Business Headlines

Senators share MMPA reform ideas

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A Missouri Senate committee has heard a trio of bills aimed at stopping abuse of the state’s consumer protection act.

Today, the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act is being used to file huge lawsuits against companies over superficial problems — such as having too much air in a candy package.

The MMPA was originally enacted to prohibit deceptive practices in the sale of products and services. Over the years, amendments eroded the law, allowing lawyers to recruit supposedly defrauded clients for consumer lawsuits and opening the door for private lawsuits to seek punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and monstrous class actions.

That’s led to concerns that today’s MMPA is creating a hazardous business climate for sellers.

“You’ve heard the phrase ‘caveat emptor’ which is the Latin for ‘buyer beware.’ Well in Missouri, under this existing situation, if you are a seller, I would say ‘caveat venditor’ which is ‘seller beware.’ That’s the state that we are in in Missouri,” said Sen. Eric Burlison, a Republican from Republic, who is sponsoring a bill to reform the MMPA.

On Feb. 19, the Senate Government Reform Committee heard three bills that each take a different approach to reforming the MMPA.

Sen. Caleb Rowden, a Republican from Columbia, has sponsored Senate Bill 276. Among the bill’s provisions is a change that would establish a standard where claimants could only recover damages if they acted as a “reasonable consumer” in the transaction. Claims could be dismissed if a court determines that a reasonable consumer would not have been misled by the claims made in the transaction.

Sen. Burlison would make changes to how MMPA attorney’s fees are awarded in his Senate Bill 62. It would also require that each member of a class action lawsuit submit a form indicating how they were harmed and requesting a specific dollar amount.

Another approach, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Koenig, a Republican from Manchester, would instruct Missouri courts to look to federal law and regulations on consumer transactions for guidance in MMPA claims. Sen. Koenig’s bill is Senate Bill 150.

Missouri Chamber Vice President of Governmental Affairs Matt Panik testified in support of these efforts to reform the MMPA. The Missouri Chamber appreciates that many lawmakers are focused on improving this issue and bringing different ideas to the table.

The Missouri Chamber will continue to advocate for these needed reforms as the session continues.

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