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US Supreme Court upholds $21.7M-plus case against Tracker boat retailer

10 years ago a Missouri couple just wanted their money back after buying a boat from Bass Pro Shops

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One St. Clair couple’s discontent with their Tracker boat has left the Bass Pro Shops group facing a more than $21.7 million bill.

The U.S. Supreme Court in May upheld a lower appellate court’s 2017 decision to affirm awarding the millions to some 100,000 customers in the class action case against Bass Pro subsidiary TMBC LLC, a state-registered retailer of Tracker boats, motors, trailers and accessories.

Robert and Janet McKeage, of St. Clair, bought their boat a decade ago but ultimately attempted to return it, said representing Attorney David Baylard of Union-based Baylard, Billington, Dempsey & Jensen PC.

After trying to remedy the issue on their own, they looked to him for legal help.

“They had attempted to have (the boat) repaired or remedied by Bass Pro, I think, four times,” he said of the couple’s initial efforts. “Finally, without any kind of satisfaction to where it was performing up to their expectations, they came to hire me.”

From there, the bill of sale immediately struck the attorney: TMBC wrongfully had charged a $75 document processing fee in the sale.

“It was right on the very first page of what you would call the bill of sale or contract,” Baylard said. “... Nobody can charge for the preparation of legal documents other than licensed attorneys in the state of Missouri.”

So the trio filed suit in January 2009, he said –  ultimately filing one count against the company to rescind the sale of the troublesome boat and five others as a class action related to the document fee that ballooned nationally, according to court records.

The case involves TMBC, Tracker Marine Retail LLC and Bass Pro Outdoor World LLC. Tracker Marine Retail serves as the parent company of TMBC, and Bass Pro Outdoor World serves as the parent company of Tracker Marine Retail.

The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 unanimously upheld the more than $21.7 million in damages in the case, a decision then upheld in May by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The interesting thing is … it really kind of started out as a case to return the boat and get their money back,” Baylard said of the McKeagues’ initial efforts.

Lead attorney of the case, Chandler Gregg of Springfield’s Strong, Garner and Bauer PC said via email that the multimillion dollar claim remains pending. He would not comment further on the proceedings.

Baylard said the claim remains pending because a ruling hasn’t yet materialized on attorney’s fees sought by the plaintiffs. The district court originally awarded roughly $2.4 million in fees.

The nationwide nature of the case is rooted in TMBC charging document processing fees on a national scale, choosing to have Missouri law govern the nationwide sales, according to the court records.

Damages, however, were limited later to roughly 100,000 customers, based on a document-by-document review of boat buyers, according to the records.

Baylard said the included customers paid between $25 and $150 in document fees to TMBC.

In the case of the McKeagues’ $75 fee, he said, the couple generally could expect a $225 settlement.

Bass Pro officials declined to comment on the case, said Jack Wlezien, director of communications for Bass Pro Group, in an email.

Forbes magazine currently lists the retailer and its $4.6 billion in revenue as No. 87 on its list of the 225 largest private American companies.

The Springfield-based outfitter in 2017 finalized a more than $5 billion buyout deal of Nebraska-based competitor Cabela’s Inc.

TMBC is based in Springfield but sells boats and trailers nationwide, mostly in Bass Pro retail stores, according to court records.

The McKeages bought their boat in May 2008 at the Tracker Boat Center inside the Bass Pro in St. Charles, northwest of St. Louis, according to the records.

Baylard said he couldn’t comment on whether the couple successfully returned the boat to the store.

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