Parker Sues to Protect PumpPal Debit Program

Published in CSP Daily News

State of Georgia reverses course on rules governing gas-price displays

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Greg Parker, president of Parker Cos., Savannah, Ga., has filed a lawsuit to block the state's plan to end the way he advertises his PumpPal discount gasoline program, reported the Savannah Morning News. The suit asked Chatham County Superior Court Judge Louisa Abbot to temporarily halt new rules that would ban display of reduced debit-card gasoline prices.

The state has agreed not to enforce the new rule against Parker for 30 days, pending an October 19 injunction hearing.

The lawsuit seeks to defend Parker's use of signs advertising the discount club gasoline prices.

Parker said that the program takes profits away from MasterCard and Visa and gives them back to the consumer. "These discounts are not going anywhere," he told the newspaper. "We're fighting for the consumer's right to know about the discounts."

Parker said his stores have sold more than 5.2 million gallons of discounted gasoline to PumpPal customers since February, saving those consumers more than $550,000.

According to the suit, 20% of all transactions at Parker's stores are paid with PumpPal cards and overall gasoline sales there have increased by more than 45% since the PumpPal program started.

The suit also asked the court to rule that the defendant, Georgia agriculture commissioner Gary W. Black, exceeded his power and violated Parker's First Amendment right to truthfully advertise the slashed price of gasoline under the program. The suit also named the state of Georgia as a defendant.

He said the Agriculture Department action would allow him only to advertise his cash and credit prices, not his club or any debit discount--action he said reversed an earlier ruling by the department under Black's predecessor, Tommy Irvin. "They're trying to make illegal what was legal," Parker said.

Black has reversed course because of pressure from Parker's competitors who are upset with its success, the suit contended. It also contended that the challenged regulation is invalid and exceeds Black's authority, the Savannah Morning News said.

Parker and his corporation, Gregory M. Parker Inc., and affiliates, operate 24 convenience stores in southeastern Georgia and South Carolina.

Faced with increased use of debit and credit cards instead of checks or cash, Parker introduced his direct-withdrawal debit program in February to try to discourage use of bank-issued debit and credit cards and their increased high-cost fees to him, said the report.

PumpPal club customers, who now number more than 33,000, save at least 10 cents a gallon. The program uses two-tier pricing, in which the price available to customers using other payment methods is posted along with the discounted club price.

"Because Parker's PumpPal club program has been highly successful with consumers, it has also been very unpopular with its competitors," the suit alleged.

If required to comply with the new rules, the company will suffer injury, it said, including decreased sales and confused customers who would be unsure about the continued availability of the program or who could take their business elsewhere, the suit said.

In addition, it would cost Parker $80,000, which would not be recoverable if the regulation is later invalidated, the suit said. The company would have to bear the costs of increased advertising to make up for losing the signs, the suit also said.