The Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (“MMPA”) was passed in 1967 in order to provide greater protection for Missouri consumers as they went about the course of doing business. It is a consumer-friendly piece of legislation that covers a huge range of commercial activities and every consumer doing business in Missouri should be aware of its existence and core components. Here are the most essential facts about the MMPA:
1. The fundamental purpose of the MMPA is the protection of consumers.
Above all else, the MMPA is a statute that intends to protect Missouri consumers by giving regular individuals a fairer playing field with regard to conducting a large range of transactions, whether they be relatively low or high-dollar. The MMPA is concerned with regular consumer purchases of things for personal, family, or household purposes.
2. The MMPA supplements the common law definition of fraud.
The MMPA specifically prohibits “any deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, unfair practice or the concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact in connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise in trade or commerce” in Missouri. These definitions expand what was considered fraudulent business activity under Missouri common law.
3. The MMPA is, therefore, very broad when it comes to “fraud”.
The MMPA is “to be construed broadly to support its fundamental purpose of protecting consumers”. The MMPA recognizes that not every unfair business practice entails a blaring, high-dollar act of clear fraud. The MMPA specifically provides for “deceptive” business practices. Indeed, unfair business practices are often subtle and designed to carefully mislead consumers. For example, a salesperson may carefully misrepresent the nature of, for example, an automobile warranty. Simple misrepresentations such as this are covered under the MMPA.
4. The MMPA’s definition of “merchandise” is also very broad.
The MMPA defines “merchandise” as “any objects, wares, goods, commodities, intangibles, real estate or services”. Therefore, the MMPA covers effectively every type of good or service about which one could conduct business, from corn to cars to houses to warranties and pretty much every other good or service in between.
5. There are four key elements to a valid MMPA claim.
The MMPA is, as stated, a very broad consumer protection statute. There are just four core elements to a valid MMPA claim: 1) it involves the purchase, advertisement, or solicitation of “merchandise”, 2) the good or service over which the claim is emanating was for personal, family, or household purposes, 3) the Plaintiff has suffered an ascertainable loss of money or property, and 4) this loss was a result of an act, committed before, during, or after a sale or advertisement that was unlawful.
6. The MMPA provides for reasonable attorneys’ fees.
If you have a valid claim under the MMPA, you should know that you need not pay attorneys’ fees out-of-pocket. While some attorneys may insist upon a retainer before pursuing such a claim, other attorneys will take such a case on a contingency basis such that any money they receive will result from a favorable decision. Because the MMPA provides for reasonable attorneys’ fees, ordinary consumers don’t need to shy away from pursuing valid claims because they can’t afford to hire a lawyer.
7. The MMPA also provides for class actions.
The MMPA provides for private civil actions as well as class actions. That is, it is possible for someone with a valid claim under the MMPA to potentially represent a much larger group of consumers who have similar claims in a class action.
8. There are a couple exceptions to what entities can be sued.
Any person, firm, or corporation utilizing fraudulent, or deceptive, practices, as defined previously, in advertising, soliciting, or selling “merchandise” can potentially be a defendant in an MMPA claim. However, there are two primary exceptions: 1) an owner or publisher, such as a newspaper or radio station, that publishes deceptive advertisements or solicitations without knowing or shared intent with the advertiser, and 2) insurance companies.
Therefore, in sum, we can restate that the MMPA is a very broad statute that covers nearly every commercial transaction, or potential transaction, that Missouri consumers could conceivably make, with few exceptions. The MMPA is, in fact, one of the most consumer-friendly statutes in the country and it behooves all consumers doing business in Missouri to be aware of the MMPA’s key tenets. For those interested in learning about the MMPA in greater depth, please keep reading…
More About the MMPA
As stated above, the MMPA is a very broad statute designed to protect Missouri consumers across most kinds of commercial transactions. It can be helpful to provide some more concrete examples with regard to the types of claims that fall under the MMPA. However, remember that these are just a few examples out of the many, many kinds of commercial transactions that are governed by the MMPA.
Some Examples of MMPA Claims
Example #1: A Missouri consumer named Gary buys a used car from a used car lot. The dealer “throws in” a “free” service contract with the car and tells the buyer that the service contract is “a warranty that covers most major repairs” for a year with a deductible of just $100. Six months later, the car breaks down and requires major engine work. Gary has done nothing irresponsible with or to the car- it just broke down. However, his claim is denied and Gary is left with a bill for $3,000. The claim is denied because of some very fine print on the service contract stating that any of a long list of alterations to the automobile is basis for denying a claim. Gary has, however, made no alteration to the car. It turns out that the dealer changed the rims on the car and, because of a technicality in the fine print, this is treated by the issuer of the service contract, which happens to be a company separate from the dealership, as an alteration and the reason for denying his claim.
Gary has a valid claim, likely against both the car dealer and the issuer of the service contract, under the MMPA because, amongst other reasons, the service contract was misrepresented as a comprehensive warranty and Gary was not informed about the changed rims. Because the car was purchased and for personal use, because Gary clearly suffered an ascertainable loss (of money and property), and because neither the car dealer nor the issuer of the service contract is exempt under the MMPA, Gary should seriously explore legal action under the MMPA.
Example #2: A Kansas resident named Nicole crosses the state line and gets a loan from a payday lender in Kansas City, Missouri. Nicole is told that she will pay 50% APR interest on the loan and signs an agreement stating this condition of the loan. Nicole pays back the loan in a few weeks and obtains a receipt stating that she paid back the loan and interest in full. When she gets home, Nicole takes another look at the receipt, does some calculations, and realizes that she just paid close to 100% APR in interest. Nicole calls the lender, who refuses to issue her a refund for the difference in interest rates, stating that the additional cost was an administrative fee that was not disclosed before and not broken out on the receipt.
Does Nicole have a valid MMPA claim? Certainly. It seems that Nicole was the victim of outright fraud and, further, she can pursue an MMPA claim even though she is a Kansas resident because the payday lender is located in Missouri and, also, the transaction took place in Missouri. The loan- money- also clearly qualifies as “merchandise” under the MMPA. Therefore, based on these facts, Nicole should have a clear and strong claim under the MMPA.
Example #3: A Missouri resident named Shirley subscribes to a cable and Internet package from a major service provider. Shirley chose that company because it frequently advertised that it offered “the fastest Internet speed of any major provider”. At first, Shirley is satisfied with her new Internet service. However, after only a month or so, Shirley’s Internet speed seems to slow down considerably. Further, this slow-down is persistent and, when she e-mails and calls the service provider, she receives inadequate explanations and long hold times from customer service.
One day, while at a friend’s house, Shirley uses her friend’s computer, which utilizes Internet service from another major provider. Her friend’s Internet service seems to be much faster and, as Shirley learns, it’s also cheaper. Further, Shirley does a little online research and soon discovers that her service provider has never offered the fastest Internet in her area. Shirley tries to cancel her subscription because of her displeasure over the apparent misrepresentation, overcharging, and poor customer service, but is told that she must pay eleven more months for the service, per the contract she signed. Shirley seems to have a valid MMPA claim because the company’s advertisement of the fastest Internet speed was a misrepresentation that caused her ascertainable loss through her purchase of a service for personal use.
Use Your Imagination
Those three examples all represent fairly straightforward and relatively commonplace types of MMPA claims. Naturally, owing to realities of the marketplace, one would expect to see the most MMPA claims, because of commonality and/or dollar cost, concerning automobiles (and their warranties and repairs), money lending and credit cards, real estate, and core services (Internet, wireless, cable, etc.). But, per Ports Petroleum Company, Inc. of Ohio v. Nixon, the MMPA covers “every practice imaginable and every unfairness to whatever degree”. Therefore, the MMPA would also cover, for example, deceit about food products, spa services, batteries, restaurant and bar offerings, household cleaners, furniture, plumbing, concerts, sporting events, golf courses, etc., etc.
Recall, however, the four key elements to an MMPA claim and, specifically, that which requires an “ascertainable loss” of money or property. Because pursuit of a legal claim requires time, energy, and some amount of money, it’s probably not worth pursuing an MMPA claim over, for example, a sandwich you bought that looked much bigger in an advertisement than in reality- this would almost certainly not be worth the effort. Further, if you wronged such that you suffered emotional distress but didn’t suffer any ascertainable, or tangible, loss, then you may have a weak claim under the MMPA. Nonetheless, as stated, the MMPA covers most forms of unfairness in consumer transactions and should be construed liberally such that it applies to most consumer situations in Missouri.
Statute of Limitations
Like many laws, the MMPA also comes with a statute of limitations. Most ordinary transactions, such as the purchase of a mobile phone or car, will fall under the five-year statute of limitations. If you’re considering pursuing an MMPA claim, please be advised that you must file it according to these time frames.
Finding an Attorney
Now that you know more about the MMPA, you should be in a much better position to assess whether you have a viable claim under that statute. If you do have a viable claim that you wish to pursue then you will likely need to begin looking for an attorney. Specifically, given that the MMPA is a consumer protection law, it’s best that you look for an attorney who specializes in this sort of law as it entails its own specialized knowledge base. A family law or personal injury attorney, for example, will likely not have much, if any, experience with MMPA claims. You should therefore find an attorney, such as those at Bell Law, who specialize in consumer protection law. Further, you should keep all documentation and otherwise evidence relating to your claim, consider how much of an award would satisfy you (your “bottom line”), and determine whether you can afford a retainer or whether you need an attorney who will take your case on a contingency basis.