Andy Wise investigates the conditions for 'price-gouging' - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Andy Wise investigates the conditions for 'price-gouging'

Andy Wise investigates the conditions for 'price-gouging'

(Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)

Whenever we have extended winter storm activity like we've had this season, I inevitably receive several complaints on the same gas station. The complaints swear that gas station is 'price-gouging.'

That gas station is the Marathon station at 15 Humphreys Center, Humphreys Blvd. and Walnut Grove Rd. -- the one by Baptist Memorial Hospital East.

Urologist Dr. Lynn Conrad keeps an office at the hospital. He filled up at the gas station Thursday. The price was $2.49 a gallon -- 23 cents a gallon more than the metro Memphis average, according to AAA.

Sound like price-gouging to you, Dr. Conrad? "I don't know," he replied. "The price of oil is up and down. There are a lot of forces."

There are a lot of forces, indeed, when it comes to throwing around 'price-gouging' claims.

For one, 'price-gouging' is, more or less, a legal term. Kevin Walters, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance, said:

1. 'Price-gouging' can only occur in an officially-declared state of emergency or disaster. Tennessee, by order of Gov. Bill Haslam, has been under an official state of emergency since Feb. 16, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

2. 'Price-gouging' only concerns prices on fuel, food, ice, generators, lodging, storage space and other necessities.

3. 'Price-gouging' only applies if prices are "...grossly in excess of the price charged prior to the emergency."

Under those conditions, it would be difficult to prove the Marathon station is price-gouging. For one, its price per gallon before Tennessee's official emergency declaration is not a matter of public record. State regulators would have to request or subpoena that information.

Secondly, $2.49 per gallon was the station's price per gallon on regular gasoline Wednesday -- before the latest winter storm rolled in. The price did not change overnight.

Thirdly, the issue of simple economics: the station's nestled right next to the busy traffic of Walnut Grove Rd. and Interstate 240. It enjoys a steady flow of customers from the traffic and from the captive clientele of the hospital.

"Supply and demand," observed Dr. Conrad.

"Businesses can raise their prices in order to recover actual expenditures," said Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. "In the case of gas station owners, they cannot charge more for their fuel already in the ground before the emergency -- only on new truck loads if it costs them more to bring the product in."

The Marathon station's manager was not there when we visited. I gave my business card to an employee. I asked her to leave it with the manager and have the manager call me. I'm still waiting.

But remember, the station was charging the same for regular gas Thursday as it was Wednesday.

Also remember:  no one's making anyone buy gas there.

"You know, I need the gas," laughed Conrad.

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