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85 octane litigation still going

Two companies accused of mislabeling gasoline are still facing lawsuits despite recently settling criminal allegations with the state.

After months of investigation by the South Dakota Attorney General's Office, Harms Oil, based in Brookings, and M.G. Oil, based in Rapid City, agreed to pay a combined $78,500 for mislabeling gas.

But the companies' agreement with the state doesn't affect the ongoing civil litigation against both companies, said attorney Brian Donahoe, of Sioux Falls, in an email response to The Daily Republic.

A class-action lawsuit, filed last summer, alleges both companies intentionally charged inflated prices to consumers in South Dakota by selling mislabeled 85 octane gas as 87 octane for at least 10 years. An octane rating is the standard measure of a fuel's performance. Fuel with a low octane rating can cause engine problems.

"This settlement does not change the plaintiff's focus or intent to pursue the claims," Donahoe said.

The plaintiffs now plan to "streamline" their claims by dismissing the original suit and bringing separate claims for alleged mislabeling against each company and individual retailers owned or controlled by the companies, Donahoe said.

A motion to dismiss the current lawsuit was filed Friday with the Brookings County Clerk of Courts Office. The motion asks to dismiss the case without prejudice, which means the plaintiffs can file other lawsuits based on the same claims.

"We look forward to ensuring that the individual consumers who were illegally sold 85 octane gasoline are provided their day in court," Donahoe said.

The six plaintiffs named in the original suit are Michael R. Ball, Dixie L. Ball and Robert J. Ball, all of Huron, as well as state Rep. Mitch Fargen, D-Flandreau, Donald Hahler, of Northville, and Gary Bradley, of Wessington Springs.

The suit alleges all six plaintiffs suffered damages because of the "fraudulent conduct" of M.G. Oil and Harms Oil.