THE MMPA: AN OVERVIEW OF MISSOURI'S CONSUMER PROTECTION STATUTE
April 29, 2019
“The purpose of [the MMPA] is to preserve fundamental honesty, fair play and right dealings in public transactions.” Lane House Constr., Inc. v. Triplett, 533 S.W.3d 801 (Mo. App., 2017).
The Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (“MMPA”) is Missouri’s consumer-protection law. It protects Missouri consumers who have been misled when making a purchase, whether the misleading act was a false advertisement, misleading salesperson, or other statement or omission. The MMPA allows aggrieved Missouri consumers to bring claims in court to recover their losses.
Missouri citizens are fortunate to have the MMPA as a tool to help them recover when companies act unfairly. The following is a breakdown of how the MMPA works, along with some notes on changes to the statute that may be coming in the future.
Who Can Sue Under the MMPA?
The MMPA allows lawsuits by anyone who made a purchase “…primarily for personal, family or household purposes and thereby suffers an ascertainable loss of money or property…” Mo. Rev. Stat. 407.025.
Because the MMPA is limited to purchases primarily for personal, family, or household purposes, businesses generally cannot bring claims under the MMPA.
What Conduct Does the MMPA Prohibit?
In order to prevail on an MMPA claim, you must prove that you: (1) purchased merchandise; (2) for personal, family or household purposes; and (3) suffered an ascertainable loss of money or property; (4) as a result of an act declared unlawful under Section 407.020. Hess v. Chase Manhattan Bank, USA, N.A., 220 S.W.3d 758, 773 (Mo. banc 20007).
Unlawful conduct under Section 407.020 includes:
[t]he act, use or employment by any person of any deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, unfair practice or the concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact in connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise in trade or commerce or the solicitation of any funds for any charitable purpose ... in or from the state of Missouri.
The MMPA is broad, and Missouri courts have interpreted it with an eye toward protecting Missouri citizens: “[T]he literal words of the MMPA have been described as cover[ing] every practice imaginable and every unfairness to whatever degree.” Lane House Constr., Inc. v. Triplett, 533 S.W.3d 801 (Mo. App., 2017). Over the years, plaintiffs have brought MMPA claims relating to vehicle purchases, food product labeling, wrongful foreclosure, debt collection, and countless other areas.
The MMPA Does Not Require Reliance
Many consumer-protection laws require a showing that the purchaser relied on the deceptive statement or practice when making his or her purchase. Missouri has no such requirement. Thus, to succeed on an MMPA claim you will not need to show that you made a purchase because of the seller’s deceptive or misleading conduct. You simply need to show that the conduct occurred (and meet the four elements above).
A reliance requirement would effectively eliminate the ability to pursue class actions, because of the individualized proof required to show that each class member relied on the deceptive statement or practice when making his or her purchase.
Class Actions are Allowed
The MMPA expressly permits class actions. Mo. Rev. Stat. 407.025. This is an essential protection for consumers, since many consumer transactions are for relatively small amounts. By permitting class actions, the MMPA gives Missouri consumers a chance to pursue their claims together. While a company might find little danger in wrongdoing that will give rise to an individual claim for $12, the potential of 50,000 claims for $12 could change the company’s analysis and behavior.
Attorney Fees are Recoverable
Consumers who succeed on their claims can recover attorney fees under the MMPA. This, too, is a huge benefit to consumers. A Missouri citizen who has been defrauded out of $12 is unlikely to call, let alone hire, an attorney who will charge the consumer hundreds of dollars an hour. If the case is strong, however, a contingency-fee attorney may be willing to pursue the case, knowing that the defendant will have to pay the consumer’s attorney fees if it loses.
The prospect of attorney fees can also hold a company’s feet to the fire—the longer a company refuses to accept liability, the higher legal bill it will face for its own attorneys and the consumer’s attorney.
Our firm handles a majority of its cases on a contingency basis. We have addressed some of the benefits of the contingency-fee structure at this link: https://pslawkc.com/faqs/#question-3
For more information on the recoverability of legal fees, generally, see this recent post: https://pslawkc.com/blog/can-i-recover-my-legal-fees-lawsuit/
Changes May Be Coming
In recent years the Missouri legislature has considered changes to the MMPA, many of which would gut the MMPA of its current protections. The Kansas City Star reported on these potential changes in 2018:
Talk to a Kansas City Consumer Fraud Attorney
For now, the MMPA remains a valuable tool available to consumers who have been defrauded, deceived, or misled by companies operating in Missouri. The attorneys at Pospisil Swift offer free consultations and have handled consumer-fraud claims, including class actions, throughout Kansas, Missouri, and other states. Fill out the form below or give us a call to discuss your potential case. An initial discussion is always free.
The information contained on this website is informational only and not intended to be, and does not constitute, legal advice. While we attempt to update our site regularly, the information does not necessarily reflect the most current legal developments. You should not act or refrain from acting based upon information provided on this site without first consulting legal counsel.