SAN DIEGO - It could be called the case of the dueling lawsuits. This week, a group of Southern California Thrifty and Arco retailers filed a lawsuit in federal court against Thrifty Oil Co. and BP asking for their leases to be renewed. Last week, in anticipation of the gas stations€™ lawsuit, BP filed its own suit saying it has complied with all the rules relating to notification about non-renewal of franchise leases, the Orange County Register reports.
The more than 40 retailers, who sublease their properties from BP, are asking for $1 billion in damages. The franchisees also are requesting a temporary restraining order to avoid being kicked off their property. The group claims BP did not provide appropriate notice when it decided not to renew its master leases with Thrifty Oil Co. in July 2010. By not renewing the leases, the stations will effectively go out of business. BP informed the owners that no lease renewal with Thrifty meant station property must be vacated as their own leases expire between 2012 and 2014, starting next month.
Thrifty Oil and Tesoro have inked new lease agreements, with more than 240 Arco and Thrifty stations being rebranded as USA Gas. The franchisees indicated Tesoro would be bringing in its own employees, so current workers and owners would be out of work.
At issue is when BP decided not to renew the Thrifty leases and if the company followed federal and state regulations for franchise termination. "Although BP doesn't typically comment on the details of pending litigation, as our filing states, we are not the owner or landlord of these properties," said a statement released by BP. "We are simply a lessee whose lease is expiring and we are taking this step to ensure that the sites are vacated as required by the lease."
David A. Schiller, a franchisee lawyer, said that BP knew several years ago it would be leaving Southern California starting this year, but that was not communicated to franchisees. "There was no good faith dealing with BP saying (to the franchisees), 'You need to make some plans because two years from now you're not going to have a lease,€™" he said.
BP said the Arco brand will stay in Southern California, and that BP continues to be committed to the ampm and Arco convenience stores.