Across the country, State Attorneys General are encouraging consumers to inform them of price-gouging incidents related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and are issuing hundreds of cease-and-desist letters to sellers whom they believe are violating price gouging laws, regulations, and orders. On April 15, 2020, for example, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that his office had issued 514 cease-and-desist letters and 89 subpoenas to businesses that had been reported by consumers as having engaged in price gouging or other consumer protection violations related to COVID-19.
The CARES Act, passed in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, is the largest stimulus package in American history and will have an enduring impact for years to come. Its massive scale raises questions about how the government, in carrying out the stimulus, may attempt to prevent fraud, waste and abuse.
For companies and industries likely to see relief from the stimulus package, several lessons learned from the 2009 American Recovery and Relief Act may be important guides to navigating what will assuredly be a complex regulatory environment going forward.
Read Jeff Tsai’s article from Law360 here.
State Attorneys General throughout the country are vigorously enforcing state unfair trade practice and price gouging statutes against those alleged to be taking advantage of consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sellers − particularly those who sell goods over state lines − are alerted that some states and localities consider price increases of 10 percent or less over pre-emergency prices to constitute price gouging.
Multiple State Attorneys General, including the AGs of Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, and Colorado, recently reached settlements with CenturyLink, a provider of internet, television, and telephone services, arising from allegations that the company had charged its customers hidden fees in violation of state consumer protection laws. As significant as the settlements themselves was the suggestion by some of those AGs that the issue of hidden fees would continue to be a priority for their offices. Washington Attorney General Robert Ferguson described the CenturyLink settlement as “the first major action of his office’s Honest Fees Initiative.” Continue Reading Disclosure of internet service fees
In December, Attorneys General from 24 states and the District of Columbia submitted detailed comments to the Federal Trade Commission on proposed revisions to the rules implementing the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). These comments were significant for multiple reasons.
The obvious reason is that State Attorneys General have concurrent enforcement authority for COPPA. The COPPA statute delegates to the FTC an unusual amount of administrative discretion in establishing standards and requirements. Therefore, the bi-partisan comments of 25 enforcement authorities on perceived shortcomings in the current COPPA rule will likely be carefully considered by the FTC. Continue Reading Children’s privacy on the internet
As food manufacturers have become more sophisticated in creating vegetarian meat alternatives whose taste and texture more closely resemble animal meat, a number of states have enacted statutes seeking to restrict how those vegetarian meats are labeled and advertised. Some State Attorneys General have been charged with enforcing these new statutes, which raise substantial First Amendment issues. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas recently enjoined Arkansas from enforcing its new labeling statute, holding that the packaging, which clearly labeled the products as vegetarian, was not inherently misleading and therefore was entitled to First Amendment protection. One of the Court’s primary considerations was that the packaging displayed the vegetarian disclosure prominently, adjacent to the description of the product as “meat.” Litigation in Missouri and Mississippi, though it has resulted in different outcomes, has followed similar guidelines.
The takeaway: companies packaging or advertising food that contains a description commonly associated with another product (e.g. “meat” or “milk”) should place a disclosure on the packaging or advertising that is sufficiently prominent to put customers on notice of what they are buying.