Each week, Crowell & Moring’s State Attorneys General team highlights significant actions that State AGs have taken. Here are this week’s updates.
February 8, 2021
- Arizona Attorney General Brnovich announced a partnership with members of the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance to create a consumer fraud awareness program inside hundreds of grocery and convenience stores in Arizona. These stores will have STOP signs at gift card stands, reminding consumers that gift cards cannot be used to pay a government agency.
- Delaware Attorney General Jennings’ Consumer Protection Unit announceda lawsuit against unlicensed debt management services company Centerdon Group, Inc. for allegedly violating the Delaware Uniform Debt-Management Services Act, the Delaware Consumer Fraud Act and the Delaware Deceptive Trade Practices Act by targeting elderly and low-income victims with misleading advertising and by charging them high fees in illegal debt-management contracts.
Financial Services | Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Several attorneys general announced a settlement with Citibank, which was led by Pennsylvania and made in partnership with Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina. Under the settlement, which resolves allegations that Citibank illegally overcharged credit card interest, Citibank must pay the five states $4.2 million, and about 25,000 current and former customers will receive refunds.
- Wisconsin Attorney General Kaul announced a complaint against Semling-Menke Company, Inc (“SEMCO”), alleging that SEMCO did not provide required notice to employees before it ceased its business operations. The lawsuit is seeking $682,864.90 in wages.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021:
Consumer Protection/Financial Services
- Student loan servicer Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (“PHEAA”) entered a settlement with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, which a judge approved on February 9, 2021. The settlement resolves a lawsuit accusing PHEAA, which does business as FedLoan Servicing, of deceptive practices causing public servants to lose financial assistance and benefits under financial programs. Among other things, the settlement allows those whose federal loans PHEAA services to seek an account review and requires PHEAA to either correct servicing errors or pay the borrowers.
- A coalition of 14 attorneys general led by Montana Attorney General Knudsen sent a letter to President Biden asking him to reconsider his revocation of the Keystone XL pipeline permit. The coalition is arguing that the revocation will increase heating and fuel costs and disrupt the agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing industries.
- New York Attorney General James filed a lawsuit and a motion for a preliminary injunction against two protesters for allegedly violating federal, state, and local law by harassing women entering a Manhattan Planned Parenthood Health Center and impeding their access to the center.
State AG Office News
- North Carolina Attorney General Stein released a 2020 annual report including the top 10 consumer complaints the North Carolina Department of Justice received in 2020. The top complaint category of 2020 was related to robocalls and telemarketing, but price gouging was second, with 2,336 complaints, followed by utility-related complaints and credit scams. Ohio Attorney General Yost also released a 2020 annual report, reflecting that the top category of complaints in Ohio was related to motor vehicles, followed by COVID-19-related complaints. “Collections, credit reporting or financial services” was also among the top categories.
February 10, 2021:
- Connecticut Attorney General Tong submitted written testimony in favor of Senate Bill 835, which would prohibit limited services pregnancy centers from engaging in false, misleading, or deceptive advertising about the services provided.
- Virginia Attorney General Herring announced that his office settled a lawsuit alleging four counts of housing discrimination against Unique Deerfield Village Townhomes Complex and its owner for threatening to evict tenants for having an assistance animal living with them. The settlement requires the landlord to adopt reasonable accommodation and non-discrimination policies, pay $30,000 in compensation, and attend annual fair housing training for three years.
- Arizona Attorney General Brnovich announced that his office settled an employment discrimination charge against alcohol and substance abuse program provider Tucson Recovery Villa Maria, formerly known as Unhooked Recovery, Inc. Unhooked Recovery has agreed to pay $75,000 under the settlement, which also imposes injunctive relief such as new employee policies and training.
February 11, 2021:
- The New Hampshire and Nevada Attorney General’s Offices announced criminal actions against individuals for Medicaid fraud. In New Hampshire, the owner of home care company Alerion Home Care and Wellness Solutions and an employee were arrested for allegedly submitting payment claims for services that were not rendered. In Nevada, the owner of Go With the Flow Behavioral Health, LLC was sentenced for billing for services that were not provided to recipients of Medicaid and ordered to pay $257,954.00 in restitution.
State AG Office News
- The Oregon Attorney General’s Office issued a 2020 report which highlights actions the office undertook in 2020. Some of these were multistate letters and litigation, environmental actions, and consumer protection actions, which included COVID-19 related actions such as settlements and investigations related to price gouging and failure to provide refunds.
- Massachusetts Attorney General Healey announced a legislative agenda for 2021-2022, which is focused on increasing equity and social justice and protecting vulnerable communities. Her office filed nine bills on February 10, 2021, which “include proposals to better protect nursing home residents, victims of crime, consumers, workers, and ratepayers across the state.
February 12, 2021:
- Michigan Attorney General Nessel asked the Michigan Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. in order to revisit past interpretations of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, which allowed members of any industry that is generally regulated to be exempt from the Act.
- Tennessee Attorney General Slatery is warning consumers about hidden credit card surcharges during the pandemic. The press release states, “Merchants must not mislead customers, such as by falsely advertising a lower price than they actually charge or hiding any differences between credit card, debit card, and cash prices. A merchant’s failing to clearly and prominently disclose—before a consumer pays or seeks to pay for an item—what it will charge for the item, including any additional fees, may violate Tennessee law prohibiting deceptive or false advertising.”
- Massachusetts Attorney General Healey announced a $600,000 settlement with biopharmaceutical company Shire Human Genetic Therapies, Inc., resolving allegations that it violated Massachusetts’ Clean Air Act and regulations by exceeding emissions limits for volatile organic compounds. The settlement also requires Shire to obtain a new permit that will cap emissions.
Financial Services | Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- A group of Virginia consumers asked the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to certify a class in their lawsuit against payday lender Think Finance, which has been accused of using companies owned by Native American tribes as fronts to charge excessive interest rates.
- Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro announced a settlement with addiction treatment provider Freedom Healthcare of America, LLC, addressing allegations that the company used deceptive marketing tactics, such as misrepresenting that it was an impartial third party resource. The settlement requires Freedom Healthcare to pay $100,000 and includes injunctive relief.
- Virginia Attorney General Herring led a coalition of 18 attorneys general in an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court case Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, arguing in support of state and federal regulations which allow limited access to private property to protect the health and safety of employees and the public. The coalition is concerned that the petitioners’ proposed rule could invalidate these statutes and ordinances.