Fred Fuller Oil is facing a $4.7 million lawsuit from major oil supplier Sprague Energy that claims Fuller hasn’t paid its bills.
While Sprague says bills haven’t been paid, Fred Fuller’s Oren Havey said it’s only a business dispute. Fuller has been around a long time, 46 years, Havey said, and does not owe anything.
Sprague Energy is also looking to seize Fuller’s assets, including its fleet of delivery trucks, according to the suit filed last week in Rockingham County District Court.
A Sprague public relations spokesperson did not return a request for comment.
Fuller has moved away from Sprague and is buying its fuel elsewhere, according to Havey. He added that the company’s trucks weren’t going anywhere and its customers would be provided for. The matter is currently in the hands of the attorneys, he said.
The company buys huge amounts of fuel, explained Havey, more than some other fuel companies purchase in weeks.
The state attorney general’s office is monitoring the situation, said James Boffetti, chief of the state’s Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau.
Boffetti will be meeting with both companies’ counsel this week, and those discussions will inform how the state will move forward with the matter.
Boffetti emphasized that while the state is concerned with making sure Fuller’s 30,000 customers are served, the home heating industry is not a utility and not heavily regulated as some industries are. As such, the state has a limited role and is currently only watching from the outside of the civil matter, he noted.
But, said Boffetti, the lawsuit poses some serious questions and challenges for Fuller and t he’d look to get answers to reassure the state that customers, especially those with pre-buy contracts, would not be affected.
Because the product being sold is home heating oil, lack of service poses health and safety as well as property damage concerns, explained Boffetti.
Fuller came off a difficult heating season last year, when it found itself with a large backlog of fuel deliveries to homeowners, businesses and government contracts alike. In response to the issue, the offices of the governor and the attorney general set up a hotline for those affected by the fuel shortage. More than 1,800 calls were fielded. Boffetti looked into the matter at that time as well.
Following last season the state legislature passed legislation that pushed out the date when customers could begin to contract for pre-buy contracts until May 1. It was previously Jan. 1.
“It’s a significant lawsuit that brings some significant challenges,” said Boffetti. “We’re going to ask some tough questions.”