Takes $1.95 Dispute to Supreme Court

During the gasoline shortage of 1979, New York state ordered a $7 minimum purchase of gas at stations, to stop people topping up. Frank Makara's tank would only hold $5.05 woth of gas, but he had to pay the full $7 minimum anyway. Outraged, he sued the BP station that charged him the $7, and took his suit all the way to the supreme court... which refused to hear the case. He ended up spending over $100 to try to recover $1.95.

According to the online inflation calculator I ran the numbers through, $1.95 in 1979 has the same purchasing power as $7.18 in 2017. So, even in today's money, not worth going to court over. Unless you're a stubborn old goat for whom the principle is worth more than the money spent on court fees.

White Plains Journal News - Apr 21, 1981

     Posted By: Alex - Thu Nov 16, 2017
     Category: Lawsuits | 1980s

The price of a gallon of gas averaged around $0.88 in 1979, so this guy was buying less than 6 gallons of gas. I don't know what kind of car he was driving, but I'm sure its tank was much bigger than that. But how did people buy fuel for their power equipment during that period? Was it required to be a completely separate purchase? There have been times when I've filled my car's tank, and before shutting off the pump, filled a gas can with fuel I use for my lawn mower and snowblower. Would that have been illegal at that time? Would I have been required to make two distinct purchases?
Posted by Fritz G on 11/16/17 at 08:01 AM
Fritz -- I'm guessing he already had gas in his tank. So he was topping off. Which is exactly what the law was trying to get people not to do. But I have no idea why the station wouldn't fill his lawn mower. Perhaps they were punishing him for topping off.
Posted by Alex on 11/16/17 at 09:01 AM
Note that the law was for 6-cylinder engines. So, unless you had one helluva lawn mower, you could fill it.
Posted by Virtual on 11/16/17 at 11:23 AM
Once the handle is back on the pump, anything more is a new transaction (to prevent fraud, the meter has to be reset to zero before the pump will start again). If he'd told them in advance to put some in his gas can, they probably would have been happy to do it, but as a separate transaction on the pump with no corresponding payment, it would have messed up the paperwork ("meter reads: 100 pumpings" + "cash register shows: 99 payments" = "someone has some explaining to do").

I suspect the pump jockey would still have done it if the guy had asked again nicely instead of instantly going into full "I'm a lawyer and you're not" mode. He definitely look like that type.

Posted by Phideaux on 11/16/17 at 01:16 PM
Virtual -- I made parts for a two-cycle, six-cylinder radial engine intended for lawn mowers, portable generators, etc. (one of our customers was big on prototyping odd things and then trying to get investors to pay for a full production run). I don't remember exactly, but I want to say it was like 2.5hp. It fell solidly in the "this is so neat, I wish it was practical" category.
Posted by Phideaux on 11/16/17 at 01:40 PM
Posted by Virtual on 11/17/17 at 10:37 AM
It was New York state. 'nuff said.
Posted by KDP on 11/17/17 at 02:37 PM
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