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Lowell Pearson

Husch Blackwell

pearson-lowellLowell Pearson says the key word to describe his client’s win against electric car maker Tesla is fairness.

Pearson, the managing partner of Husch Blackwell’s Jefferson City office, secured a victory for the Missouri Automobile Dealers Association in a case that has implications for other companies looking to bypass the dealership model to sell directly to consumers.

In 2015, MADA sued the Department of Revenue for granting and renewing Tesla new motor vehicle dealer licenses.

The plaintiffs claimed Tesla’s licenses violated the Missouri Motor Vehicle Franchise Practices Act, which requires that vehicles be sold through dealers that have franchisee agreements with manufacturers.

In August, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green sustained a motion for summary judgment in favor of MADA.

In his judgment, he prohibited the revenue department from renewing Tesla’s licenses, issuing any new licenses or issuing or renewing any new motor vehicle dealer license to any entity that is not a franchisee or doesn’t file a valid franchise agreement.

Pearson said MADA and individual dealers had previously brought similar suits in other jurisdictions, but their arguments were not accepted by the courts.

“We were asked to come up with a new and different set of claims to bring, and that succeeded,” he said.

Pearson said the existing model of vehicle sales is designed to help consumers, particularly in terms of seeking competitive pricing.

“The Tesla model doesn’t permit that,” he said. “There’s a price and you pay it and that’s it. It deprives the consumers of the opportunity to really pit the dealers against each other to get the best price.”

Both defendants have filed notices of appeal. On Jan. 4, the Western District Court of Appeals approved a stay of the judgment pending the appeal, which allowed Tesla to reopen stores after its licenses expired Dec. 31.

Pearson said the Tesla case reflects the best parts of his practice.

He’s been with Husch since 1995, with a four-year stint serving as deputy director of revenue and then general counsel in Gov. Matt Blunt’s administration from 2005 to 2009. Prior to joining Husch, he practiced law in Washington, D.C. for 10 years.

Throughout his career, he said he has worked on issues involving the Constitution and public policy, areas he is interested and passionate about.

“We all know job dissatisfaction among lawyers is pretty high,” he said. “I’ve always been fortunate to be able to do the cases I enjoy the most and this would be a case of that.”