Suing for pennies

The Madison County Record Nov. 29, 2009, 8:45am

Sure, it's only 58 cents, but it's the principle of the thing. Right?

On September 8th Darin Pichee purchased an ignition lock cylinder at the O'Reilly Auto Parts store in Alton for $57.99, plus $4.55 tax ($62.54 total). The next day he returned the part to the O'Reilly store in nearby Godfrey and received a refund of $61.96.

Why was the refund 58 cents less than the original purchase price? The sales tax is higher in Alton (7.85 percent) than in Godfrey (6.85).

With a highly developed sense of penny justice, Pichee decided to fight back. On November 13th he filed a complaint against O'Reilly Auto Parts in Madison County Circuit Court.

It's not just himself that Darin Pichee is fighting for. Other O'Reilly customers may have purchased parts in Alton and returned them to Godfrey, only to be shortchanged some pennies. He's standing up for their rights, too. Multiply 58 cents by a hundred customers and you're talking real money – almost sixty dollars!

Orchestrating Pichee's putative class action suit on behalf of all the potential victims of inadequate O'Reilly refunds are Bradley M. Lakin, Robert W. Schmieder II and Robert J. Evola of LakinChapman in Wood River.

You may wonder why Pichee didn't return the part in question to the store in Alton from which it came. If the extra 58 cents was that important, why take it to a different store in Godfrey? Why accept the lesser refund, if it wasn't satisfactory?

Maybe it would have cost more than 58 cents in gas and time to go back to Alton. If that were the case, he may have come out ahead.

Why did he return the part? Had he purchased the wrong cylinder? Was the cylinder defective? Did Darin Pichee buy a part at one O'Reilly's and return it to another as a pretext for filing a lawsuit? That's doubtful. But all these weighty questions will have to be answered in a courtroom at great lawyer expense and months, even years, of time.

Meanwhile a reputable business could feel like its pocket is being picked. Who's the winner at the end of the day? Certainly not the taxpayer or the consumer.

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