Missouri legislature makes major changes to state’s consumer protection statute
By Erwin O. Switzer and Ronnie L. White II
Updated on July 1, 2020
The Missouri General Assembly passed S.B. 591, which makes major changes to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA). These are perhaps the most significant updates since a private right of action was added to the MMPA in 1973. The American Tort Reform Association and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce advocated for the changes. On July 1, 2020, Gov. Mike Parson signed S.B. 591.
Key amendments to the MMPA, within S.B. 591, include requiring plaintiffs to establish the following additional elements:
- The consumer acted as a “reasonable consumer … in light of all circumstances”;
- the allegedly unlawful business practice would cause a reasonable person to enter into the transaction at issue (i.e., that the plaintiff acted as a reasonable consumer would under the circumstances); and
- individual damages must be established by sufficiently definitive and objective evidence to allow damages to be calculated with a reasonable degree of certainty.
Heightened class action standard
S.B. 591 sets forth new heightened requirements for bringing a class action under the MMPA. The class representative must establish all required elements. Additionally, all class members will be individually required to show how the allegedly deceptive or unlawful practice caused their specific damages. The above-referenced requirements will make it more difficult to certify class actions under the MMPA in the future.
In addition to the elements above and heightened class action requirements, S.B. 591 also grants judges the discretionary authority to dismiss claims where it is objectively clear that no reasonable consumer would have been misled by the practice giving rise to the lawsuit. The bill also prohibits plaintiffs from using the MMPA as a vehicle to bring claims that should be filed under Missouri’s medical malpractice statute, i.e., claims based on improper health care. Injunctive relief is expressly limited to what is necessary and proper to protective the prevailing party from unlawful acts. Causes of action under the private right of action section of the MMPA would accrue of the date of purchase or lease or upon receipt of notice of a practice declared unlawful under the MMPA. Attorney’s fees must have a reasonable relationship to the amount of the judgment, except that attorney’s fees for injunctive relief shall be based on the amount of time reasonably expended.
The bill will only apply to cases filed on or after Aug. 28, 2020. The changes to the MMPA will be codified primarily in RSMo §407.025.
Greensfelder stand ready to help businesses of all sizes navigate the MMPA and other consumer protection-related matters.