Have you ever rented an automobile on a trip away from home? Of course, you have! You undoubtedly recall that gasoline stations on the road to the airport charge less for gasoline than the auto rental company charges at its airport location.
Have you ever been in a situation in which you fear you will be late for your flight if you stop to get gas before entering the airport? Of course, you have! You take a chance on the cost and return the car at the airport. As you rush to the bus which will take you to the terminal, the auto rental agent casually observes that the per gallon charge is $3.58! Do you have any remedy?
Two fellows recently raised the issue in Los Angeles County in a lawsuit against Budget Group, Inc. The Plaintiffs sought to demonstrate that the car rental company was guilty of unfair business practices based upon high refueling charges for rental cars returned without full gas tanks.
In defense, Budget noted its printed form provides:
"Renter will pay for or replace all fuel provided by Budget by either buying the fuel in the tank at the beginning of the rental or returning the Vehicle with as much fuel as when received. . . . If Renter does not buy the fuel in the tank at the beginning of the rental and returns the Vehicle with less fuel than when received, a refueling charge applies."
The Court notes that the first page of the agreement specifies a rate of $3.58 per gallon.
In denying the Plaintiffs any recovery, the Court of Appeal noted that the public was not likely to be deceived since the various payment options were clearly printed, in bold face, in the rental agreement provided to the Plaintiffs at the time of the auto rental. Moreover, the amount of the refueling service option cannot be claimed to be a "surprise" since the amount per gallon was clearly printed on the first page of the rental agreement.
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In another recent case arising out of San Bernardino County, California, the plaintiffs’ side of the case proved to be more successful, but in an unrelated area. Instead of nominal damage to their pocketbook, these plaintiffs received more than nominal damage to their person.
Plaintiffs were union organizers and appeared at the bingo and casino facility of the San Manuel Bingo and Casino, a gaming facility located on the Tribe’s reservation in San Bernardino County.
One Plaintiff was attempting to speak with employees about their legal rights; the other Plaintiff was taking photographs to document his activities. The Plaintiffs were quickly accosted by the defendants, who were tribal law enforcement officers, but not members of the Tribe.
According to the Complaint, one of the Defendants approached one of the Plaintiffs, demanded his camera, and pushed him. The Defendant thereafter
"instructed the other Defendants how to force [the Plaintiff] to the ground and take his camera. Several Defendants, the names unknown, pushed [the Plaintiff] to the ground, handcuffed him, struck and kicked him, rammed his head into a wall, and sprayed pepper spray into his face and chest. Several Defendants opened [the Plaintiff’s] camera and exposed the film."
Under federal law, an Indian Tribe is essentially immune from such litigation under a doctrine known as "sovereign immunity." An Indian Tribe may be sued only where Congress has authorized the suit or the Tribe has waived its immunity.
The Court observed that individual tribal officials are immune if they occupy high-level or governing positions within the Tribe. In this instance, however, the Court determined that these security officers were performing ordinary law enforcement duties, were not involved in policy making, and thus could not avail themselves of the doctrine of sovereign immunity.
The moral of the story? Fill up your tank with gas on the way to the airport, and if the gas station is on tribal property, don’t argue with the attendant!