Each week, Crowell & Moring’s State Attorneys General team highlights significant actions that State AGs have taken. Here are this week’s updates.
- A bipartisan coalition of 35 state attorneys general, joined by the District of Columbia, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, sent Congress a letter urging it to allow attorneys general to enforce state and federal consumer protections for airline travelers. The state attorneys general make this request after receiving thousands of complaints from passengers claiming airlines have failed in their service responsibilities. Federal law places responsibility for addressing violations of airlines consumer protection with the U.S. Department of Transportation and state attorneys general have limited authority to hold airline companies accountable. The letter urges Congress to pass legislation that would repeal the federal bar on state attorneys general from enforcing the same state and federal consumer protection laws that apply to other industries.
- A bipartisan coalition of 51 state attorneys general sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging it to require telephone providers that route calls across the United States telephone network to implement more rigorous measures to prevent illegal and fraudulent robocalls. According to the coalition, illegal robocalls cost consumers, law enforcement and the telecommunications industry approximately $13.5 billion every year. The letter expresses support for the FCC’s proposal to extend the implementation of STIR/SHAKEN, a caller ID authentication technology that helps prevent spoofed calls, to all “intermediate” phone providers in the United States. Further, the letter urges the FCC to require providers to adopt additional measure to cut down on illegal and fraudulent robocalls.
- A coalition of 24 state attorneys general, led by Montana Attorney General Knudsen and Tennessee Attorney General Skrmetti, sent a letter to the Chief Executive Officers of three major credit card companies, American Express, Mastercard and Visa, alerting each that the recent creation of a Merchant Category Code for the processing of firearm purchases is potentially a violation of consumer protection and antitrust laws. The letter stated the monitoring and tracking of firearms purchases will create a “list of gun buyers,” which will generate risk that consumers’ information will be obtained and misused by those opposing Second Amendment rights. The letter asserts that the new Merchant Category Code is the result of transnational collusion between large corporations leveraging their market power to further desired social outcomes.
- California Attorney General Bonta and California Assemblymember Brian Maienschein introduced legislation establishing various new protections for car buyers in Assembly Bill 2311. On September 14, California Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2311. The bill addresses the sale and administration of guaranteed asset protection (GAP) insurance, an add-on product often sold by car dealers along with auto loans that allegedly offers little to no value to consumers. The bill will require creditors to automatically refund the unearned portion of a GAP waiver if a consumer pays off or otherwise terminates their auto loan early.
- California Attorney General Bonta, alongside five district attorneys, announced an $8 million settlement with Safeway resolving allegations that the company violated state environmental laws while operating underground storage tank systems at 71 gas stations across California. An investigation into Safeway’s gas stations found a recurring failure to install, implement and operate various spill prevention and safety measures since at least March 2015. Safeway allegedly violated state laws regulating the operation of underground storage tanks and the handling of hazardous waste. The settlement includes injunctive requirements to improve operational safety and compliance with state laws to avoid potential contamination to soil and groundwater.
- Connecticut Attorney General Tong and Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Seagull announced an investigation into unfair and deceptive sales practices of Solar Wolf Energy, Inc., an Auburn, Massachusetts-based solar company, over failure to complete promised residential work. Solar Wolf in violation of the Connecticut Home Improvement Act and Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act allegedly charged high-priced deposits and failed to complete the contracted work, and failed to return those deposits to consumers for incomplete work. Solar Wolf failed to respond to an investigative demand, which led to a Superior Court order blocking Solar Wolf from selling, advertising, offering, or marketing goods or services in Connecticut until permission form the court is obtained.
- Massachusetts Attorney General Healey filed a lawsuit against a Haverhill, Massachusetts car dealership, Jaffarian’s Service Inc., d/b/a Jaffarian Volvo Toyota, for engaging in unfair, deceptive and discriminatory pricing practices against Black and Hispanic customers by illegally charging them hundreds of dollars more for “add-on” products when purchasing a car, such as paint protection, GAP insurance and remote starters. The complaint alleges the dealership gave staff full discretion to markup the prices of add-on products, and the sales history of Jaffarian suggest that Black and Hispanic customers were charged more on average. The alleged discriminatory sales practices resulted in more than $170,000 in improper profits for the car dealership in a two-year period.
- Massachusetts Attorney General Healy announced a $12 million settlement with a national debt collection company and its subsidiaries for allegedly engaging in unfair and deceptive debt buying and collection in violation of state laws and the Attorney General’s Debt Collection Regulations. The assurance of discontinuance alleges that Encore Capital Group, Inc. and its three subsidiaries were collecting debts without sufficient proof that the debts were valid and accurate, using misleading collection tactics to obtain payments from consumers, harassing consumers and attempting to collect debts that were beyond the statute of limitations, among other allegations. The $12 million settlement includes $4.5 million in restitution to consumers and Encore Capital Group will cease collection on over 4,200 debts, totaling approximately $7.5 million.
- Ohio Attorney General Yost filed a lawsuit against Thrifty Propane, a Medina, Ohio propane supplier, for failing to deliver its products, not refunding consumers’ money and violating two prior consent judgments. Thrifty Propane was the subject of more than one hundred consumer complaints to the Attorney General’s office in 2022 alone. The lawsuit cites six violations of the Consumer Sales Practice Act for various deceptive business practices and seeks $25,000 for each violation as well as reimbursement to the damaged consumers.
- Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro obtained a court order for more than $1.7 million in restitution against Omega Vehicle Services, LLC d/b/a Delta Auto Protect for violating consumer protection laws. Delta Auto Protect contracted with consumers nationwide for coverage of any necessary repairs, but when consumers attempted to obtain reimbursement for repairs, Delta Auto Protect would deny the claims and fail to honor their contracts. The court order prevents Delta Auto from operating in Pennsylvania or selling these types of contracts to Pennsylvanian customers, as well as provides for more than $2.5 million in restitution for customers, business restitution and civil penalties for each violation of consumer protection laws.