As many attorneys in Missouri are prone to say, the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (“MPA”) is the biggest Missouri law you have not heard about. The core of the MPA articulated in RSMo 407.020 proves that:
[It shall be unlawful to engage in]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 […] in or from the state of Missouri.
The Missouri Attorney General (“AG”) is permitted under the MPA to promulgate regulations articulating the scope and nature of the MPA; such regulations have the same weight and force of normal statutory laws. And although the MPA mostly empowers the AG to file suit against businesses engaging in the aforementioned practices, the Act explicitly provides for civil suits between private persons/entities and class action lawsuits. RSMo, 407.025
Given the fact that the MPA applies to private civil actions, the laws is quite broad. Indeed, courts, in analyzing the contours of the MPA, have found that it was ratified in an attempt to “preserve fundamental honesty, fair play and right honesty in public transactions.” To accomplish this goal, the statute can result in liability against a Defendant even in the absence of actual knowledge on the part of the Defendant (in other words, unlike common law fraud/misrepresentation, it is the defendant’s conduct, not intent, that is controlling). For instance, then, a submissible misrepresentation case under the MPA can be successful even in mistake or ignorance of its falsity. Further, several traditional defenses applicable in normal fraud/defective product cases are inapplicable in a MPA suit.
Because of the liberal construction and interpretation that is afforded to the MPA, it is paramount for all parties — buyers and sellers alike — to be cognizant of potential liabilities and pitfalls.