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MURARESKU v. AMOCO OIL CO.

November 13, 1986

RAYMOND MURARESKU
v.
AMOCO OIL COMPANY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CAHN

 CAHN, J.

 Plaintiff Raymond Muraresku is a former franchisee of defendant Amoco Oil Company. On October 28, 1982 Amoco notified plaintiff that his lease, which expired January 31, 1983, would not be renewed. Plaintiff brought this suit claiming that the nonrenewal of his lease was in violation of the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (PMPA), 15 U.S.C. § 2801 et seq.

 The case went to trial in February of 1985 before Chief Judge Alfred L. Luongo and a jury. Three issues were submitted to the jury by special interrogatory:

 
1. Did AMOCO determine not to renew Mr. Muraresku's franchise in good faith and in the normal course of business?
 
2. Did AMOCO give Mr. Muraresku adequate notice of the reasons for nonrenewal?
 
3. Did AMOCO, within the 90-day period of notice of nonrenewal, make a bona fide offer to sell to Mr. Muraresku its interest in the premises?

 The jury answered "yes" to questions 1 and 3 and "no" to question 2; however, they awarded the plaintiff nominal damages of only one dollar for Amoco's failure to provide adequate notice. The judgment was affirmed on appeal, Muraresku v. Amoco Oil Co., 786 F.2d 1148 (3d Cir. 1986) (judgment order), and on August 21, 1986 the case was reassigned to me.

 Plaintiff now seeks an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to the PMPA. *fn1" Title 15 U.S.C. § 2805(d) (1982) provides, in part, that:

 
(1) If the franchisee prevails in any action under Subsection (a) of this Section, such franchisee shall be entitled
 
. . .
 
(C) to reasonable attorney and expert witness fees to be paid by the franchisor, unless the court determines that only nominal damages are to be awarded to such franchisee, in which case the court, in its discretion, need not direct that such fees be paid by the franchisor.

 There is little guidance in the federal courts on the proper construction of this statute; however, it is clear that three issues must be addressed. First, I must decide whether the plaintiff is the prevailing party. Next, whether the court should award attorneys' fees and, finally, what fee is reasonable under the circumstances. Although I find that the plaintiff is the "prevailing" party and is entitled to attorneys' fees, the plaintiff's paltry success mandates that a nominal award is appropriate.

 Under the PMPA the plaintiff must have "prevailed" to be entitled to recover his attorneys' fees. 15 U.S.C. § 2805(d)(1). In Institutionalized Juveniles v. Secretary of Public Welfare, 758 F.2d 897 (3d Cir. 1985), the court held that the test for determining if a party has "prevailed" is "whether plaintiff achieved 'some of the benefit sought' by the party bringing the suit." (quoting NAACP v. Wilmington Medical Center, Inc., 689 F.2d 1161, 1167 (3d Cir. 1982)). See also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40, 103 S. Ct. 1933 (1983) ("a typical formulation is that plaintiffs . . . [prevail] . . . if they succeed on any ...


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