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The Supreme Court is stepping into a dispute between Shell Oil Co. and gas station operators who claim the oil company tried to drive them out of business.


The justices, in an order Monday, say they will hear arguments next year in a case involving eight Shell station operators in Massachusetts who are fighting changes in lease terms that they say were intended to convert stations run by franchisees to company-owned facilities.

A federal jury awarded the gas station operators $3.3 million. The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld some aspects of the verdict and overturned others.

Shell, owned by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, and the station operators all appealed to the Supreme Court. The Obama administration also asked the court to intervene and rule in Shell's favor.

The case turns on provisions of the 30-year-old Petroleum Marketing Practices Act. Appeals courts around the country are divided on the issue.

The cases are Mac's Shell Service v. Shell Oil, 08-240, and Shell Oil v. Mac's Shell Service, 08-372.


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