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    BP Sued

    Dealers allege leases were cut short to make room for corporate stores in South Florida.

    MIAMI -- Nine South Florida Amoco dealers have filed suit against BP plc for alleged premature contract cancellations stemming from BP's acquisition of Amoco four years ago.

    The plaintiffs say they were initially told by Amoco representatives that they would have initial lease terms of four years with at least three automatic renewals, for a total of 12 years, The (Miami) Sun-Sentinel reported.

    Yet the dealers' lawyers, Robert Levine and associate Allan Reiss, argue that after Amoco's 1998 merger with BP, the oil company changed their clients' status from dealers to independent resellers in order to avoid protections under the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act, such as safeguards for dealers from contract cancellations.

    Local industry leaders expressed little surprise at the lawsuit. "Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, where BP has a strong presence, were redlined years ago," Jim Smith, president of the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association (FPMA) told CSNews Online. "Independent distributors hardly exist there.

    He continued: "I would be inclined to think that [the cancellations] have a lot to do with BP wanting particular retail areas that have beenprofitable and have shown decent volumes."

    The dealers claim that their personal investments in the sites, ranging from $150,000 to $300,000, will be lost if they are required to relinquish the leases.

    Although BP has declined to comment on the suit, a statement released by the company said, "We always comply with our contracts and feel we have done so in this case."

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