Each week, Crowell & Moring’s State Attorneys General team highlights significant actions that State AGs have taken. Here are this week’s updates.
Monday, May 3, 2021:
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Acting Director Uejio and Federal Trade Commission Acting Chairwoman Slaughter sent notification letters to the U.S.’s largest apartment landlords reminding them of federal protections against evictions and requirements of notices under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). In connection with the letters, Acting Director Uejio stated, “Landlords should ensure that FDCPA-covered debt collectors working on their behalf, which may include attorneys, notify tenants of their rights under federal law. . .We will hold accountable debt collectors who move forward with illegal evictions.”
- On April 30, 2021, U.S. District Judge Slomsky of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that the Pennsylvania Attorney General can sue business newsletter and law book publisher American Future Systems Inc. under Pennsylvania’s consumer protection law because business-to-business transactions are also subject to the Attorney General’s enforcement powers.
- Florida Attorney General Moody announced that her office has obtained over $3 million in recoveries for consumers from COVID-19 related scams, purchases, and cancellations. The announcement also states that the price gouging hotline remains active and that the Attorney General’s Office continues to receive complaints about price gouging and other effects of the pandemic on consumer transactions.
- New Jersey Attorney General Grewal announced that solar company NRG Residential Solar Solutions LLC will pay about $69,000 to resolve allegations that it used deceptive sales practices to mislead consumers into leasing solar energy panels, failed to deliver the energy savings it had promised, and misrepresented its policies for servicing, installation, and financing the solar panels. In addition to the payment, the company must also significantly change its business practices and enter arbitration with consumers who choose this option for the next year.
- Illinois Attorney General Raoul, Nevada Attorney General Ford, and Virginia Attorney General Herring filed a notice of appeal in their lawsuit to ensure the federal government acknowledges the Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees equal rights for all Americans regardless of their sex, as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in March, but the attorneys general are arguing that the judge overlooked the role of Article V in amending the Constitution and gave too much weight to a deadline Congress gave for the amendment.
- New York Attorney General James announced the guilty pleas of the owners of upstate New York restaurants and bars for tax evasion. The defendants repaid $479,203.03 as part of their guilty pleas for underreporting over $4 million in taxable sales.
Tuesday, May 4, 2021:
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) released two reports demonstrating that Black and Hispanic mortgage borrowers are significantly more likely to be in a forbearance program or to be delinquent than white borrowers are, as well as that overall mortgage complaints to the CFPB are at their highest level in the past three years. In connection with the reports, Acting Director Uejio stated, “More borrowers are behind on their mortgage than at any time since the height of the Great Recession. Communities of color have been hit hard by the pandemic, and the latest data show that many borrowers are still hurting. The CFPB will continue to seek and actively respond to developments in the market, doing everything in our power to help families stay in their homes. As we warned mortgage servicers last month, unprepared is unacceptable.”
- District of Columbia Attorney General Racine co-hosted a national convening with Connecticut Attorney General Tong and the Attorney General Alliance on countering anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander (“AAPI”) hate. The convening included many legal and policy experts as well as business leaders, advocates, and government officials, who met to discuss how to combat anti-AAPI hate with tangible solutions.
- Missouri Attorney General Schmitt announced that in-home health care provider Healthy Home & Family, Inc. and its owners entered into a $300,000 civil settlement agreement with his office for submitting false claims to Missouri Medicaid. The defendants sought payment for more hours than the amount of time care was actually provided and altered records to conceal the fraud. In addition to the payment, the company has agreed to enhanced oversight and monitoring.
- Michigan Attorney General Nessel announced that the owner of home help provider Synergy Home Services has been charged with submitting false claims to Medicaid for services that were not provided including during times when beneficiaries were hospitalized and not receiving any home help services.
- Attorneys General announced the restoration of federal public safety funds to states under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program now that the Department of Justice has agreed to remove immigration-related conditions.
Wednesday, May 5, 2021:
- Massachusetts Attorney General Healey sent a letter on May 3, 2021 to several pharmacies asking them to reveal their data collection practices for COVID-19 vaccine recipients and the connection between this data collection and marketing. Attorney General Healey’s letter comes after reports surfaced that the data was being used to tailor marketing.
- Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro applauded that the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it will withdraw the “Independent Contractor” rule which modified the independent contractor status test and which a coalition of 24 attorneys general opposed because of potential misclassification concerns.
Thursday, May 6, 2021:
- Arkansas Attorney General Rutledge announced a $2.6 million judgment against timeshare exit company Real Travel, LLC and its founder for charging consumers high fees and then failing to deliver on promises to help consumers transfer or cancel their timeshare property interests. Under the judgment, the business and founder will also no longer be able to conduct timeshare or timeshare exit-related business in Arkansas.
- Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro announced that, effective May 5, 2021, $17,961,238.17 in fees owed to Pennsylvania from higher education students will be recalled to the Attorney General’s Office from private collection agencies. Pennsylvania will also stop sending outstanding student fees to for-profit debt collectors, and it will stop approving universities’ attempts to send these fees to for-profit debt collectors before using more consumer-friendly methods.
- New York Attorney General James released a report about her office’s investigation into fake public comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) related to a 2017 proceeding to repeal net neutrality rules. The investigation revealed that broadband companies funded a campaign to generate many of these fake comments in support of the repeal, which involved several lead generators. Attorney General James announced agreements with three of the lead generators, and issued a report recommending reforms such as deterrence and technical safeguards.
- Texas Attorney General Paxton filed a motion to intervene in Florida’s lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for halting the operation of the cruise industry with “no-sailing” or “conditional-sailing” orders.
- Georgia Attorney General Carr announced that Governor Kemp signed House Bill 509, which will provide a state-based healthcare source as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act and will preserve protections of preexisting medical conditions.
- A coalition of 21 attorneys general sent a letter to Congress asking it to pass the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, which would help address the Black maternal mortality crisis by improving access to transportation, housing, and nutrition services. The legislation would also allow attorneys general to better protect their residents against race-based discrimination in healthcare.
- Arkansas Attorney General Rutledge filed a lawsuit against chiropractic clinics 501 Pain & Rehab, LLC and 501 Pain and Rehab Family Clinic of Russellville, LLC, as well as two individuals involved with the clinics, for allegedly discarding patients’ personal and medical information in a public park, violating the Personal Information Protection Act and the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief, civil penalties, and license revocation or suspension.
Friday, May 7, 2021:
- Ohio Attorney General Yost filed a lawsuit against the director of charity Pen Ohio for allegedly using the charity for personal enrichment. The lawsuit, which seeks injunctive and monetary relief, alleges that the director used $110,000 of charitable funds for his own benefit without obtaining the board’s approval, breached his fiduciary duties, and abused a charitable trust.
- Oklahoma Attorney General Hunter announced an agreement with private pharmaceutical wholesaler FFF Enterprises to return hydroxychloroquine the state purchased for a full refund. The Oklahoma State Health Department purchased the drug at the beginning of the pandemic after the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) granted emergency use authorization for it as a virus treatment. However, the FDA subsequently revoked the authorization, and the company worked with the Attorney General’s office to provide the refund.