DARLINGTON, SC – November 24, 2008 – A legal team headed by Nexsen Pruet’s Marguerite Willis secured a $3 million verdict against Exxon Mobil Corporation on behalf of a Darlington company that claimed the global oil giant had illegally conspired to drive it out of the Mobil lubricants business and had wrongfully terminated its distributorship.
At the conclusion of a nearly 4 week trial over which the Honorable James E. Lockemy presided, the jury took less than two hours to reach its decision, which came late Friday night and included $2 million in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages for Bristow Oil Company.
Willis, whose team included South Carolina State Senator Gerald Malloy and John Nichols of Bluestein, Nichols, Thompson & Delgado, LLC, said the verdict was especially gratifying in that a family-owned business that has been in Darlington since 1912 had triumphed after an extended legal battle.
“This case was originally filed four years ago,” said Willis, “so it has been a long, hard fight. But thanks to the hard work of a group of committed lawyers like Sen. Malloy and John Nichols, we were able to secure a favorable outcome against an oil-industry titan.”
Details of the case:
The origins of the case date back to 1984, when Damon Flowers first joined Bristow at the request of his father-in-law, William Bristow. Shortly thereafter, Mobil Oil Corporation, now called ExxonMobil, asked Bristow to distribute its lubricants, and Flowers agreed to head up that part of the business.
In the years that followed, Flowers and other Bristow employees expanded the lubricant business. ExxonMobil responded by regularly renewing the company’s distributorship agreement and Bristow continued to make the necessary investments to further build upon its successful performance.
In late 1998, White Oil Company, another Mobil distributor located in North Carolina, with operations in South Carolina, and ExxonMobil targeted Bristow as the Florence conflict. Thereafter, Flowers was approached by Glenn White, who owned White Oil. When White expressed an interest in purchasing Bristow, Flowers told him the company was not for sale.
Thereafter, White Oil and ExxonMobil proceeded with their plan to remove the Florence conflict. For its part, ExxonMobil provided funding to White Oil to purchase another lubricant business in South Carolina. But White Oil was facing financial difficulties in South Carolina, leaving ExxonMobil to analyze whether to bankroll an additional acquisition. Termination of the distributorship agreement with Bristow would primarily be to White’s economic benefit – and, by extension, to ExxonMobil’s, because under the conspirators’ plan, White Oil would acquire the customers of Bristow so as to be more able to repay monies owed to ExxonMobil.
In spring 2001, ExxonMobil employees came to Darlington to meet with Flowers, who believed they were coming to present him with a newly drafted agreement. Instead, they announced they were terminating Bristow’s distributorship.
The jury agreed that had Bristow known ExxonMobil intended to end its 17 year relationship, Flowers would have had options to save Bristow’s business, which he was denied. As such, they determined that ExxonMobil had illegally favored White Oil, conspiring to cheat Bristow out of its Mobil lubricants business. The jury also made a specific determination that ExxonMobil’s conduct was willful, wanton, and malicious, thereby justifying the punitive damages award.
Nexsen Pruet, LLC is one of the largest law firms in the Carolinas, with more than 170 attorneys and offices in Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, Hilton Head, and Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C. Founded in 1945, Nexsen Pruet provides a broad range of legal services to the business community and represents companies and other entities in local, state, national, and international venues.
For further information, see www.nexsenpruet.com.