Each week, Crowell & Moring’s State Attorneys General team highlights significant actions that State AGs have taken. Here are this week’s updates.
- A multistate coalition of 17 attorneys general, led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, submitted a Writ of Certiorari requesting that the U.S. Supreme Court review questions pertaining to the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Financial Services Association of America Ltd. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled the funding mechanism of CFPB, which was formed during the Obama administration and charged with regulating much of the financial services industry without substantial oversight from Congress, is unconstitutional. The Fifth Circuit’s decision is at odds with the D.C. Circuit, which saw no constitutional problem with the CFPB’s budgetary set-up.
- A multistate coalition of 22 attorneys general filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) petition for review of a Fifth Circuit decision finding that the agency’s funding mechanism is unconstitutional. The coalition argues that the CFPB has served as an invaluable enforcement partner to state attorneys general and that the Fifth Circuit’s reasoning threatens to invalidate past CFPB actions to the detriment of both the consumers protected by these actions and the financial service providers who have relied on these actions to guide their conduct.
- A multistate coalition of 34 attorneys general submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) urging the department to strengthen protections for airline consumers and provide meaningful relief when flights are unexpectedly canceled or significantly delayed. The letter made a number of recommendations including that the USDOT require airlines to advertise and sell only flights that they have adequate personnel to fly and support; and, that the USDOT made clear that it will impose significant fines for cancellations and extended delays that are not weather-related or otherwise unavoidable.
- Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes settled a data breach enforcement case against Avalon Healthcare Management. The $200,000 settlement stems from a 2019 data breach that exposed the personal information and protected health information of 14,500 Avalon employees and patients.
- Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced a settlement with Companion Pets, Inc., a pet store that sells puppies online and in retail locations in Arizona, resolving allegations of unlawful practices and misrepresentations in Companion Pets’ advertising and sale of dogs. In addition to paying $120,000 in restitution, the company agreed to make a number of changes to its business practices. For instance, the business agreed to clearly identify the source of the animals that it sells, accurately display the name and licensing of animal breeders and brokers, and not offer for sale dogs that come from breeders or brokers that have been cited with animal welfare violations.
- California Attorney General Rob Bonta, alongside SBCS (formerly South Baby Community Services), shared tips and resources on how to donate safely and avoid scams while giving this holiday season.
- California Attorney General Bonta also issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency for Humboldt County following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake near the Cities of Ferndale and Rio Dell, reminding Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.
- Connecticut Attorney General William Tong publicized that Reeha LLC, owner of a Litchfield-based gas station, has paid $2,400 for failure to lower its prices by 25 cents per gallon on April 1 as required by the gas tax holiday suspension. An investigation by the Office of the Attorney General found that Reeha did not lower its price until April 10.
District of Columbia
- Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced a settlement with Solid Brick Ventures LLC, owner and manager of the rent-stabilized Hawaii-Webster Apartments, resolving allegations that the company intentionally neglected the property and forced tenants to live with hazards like mold, crumbling lead paint, and pervasive infestations of vermin. Under the terms of the settlement, the property owners, will complete renovations and pay $1,000,000 to the District—the majority of which will be used to provide restitution to tenants.
- The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia reached a settlement with Express Homebuyers to resolve its lawsuit against the company for its deceptive letters claiming that homeowners were at risk of foreclosure and owed back taxes. The company will pay $70,000 in penalties to the District of Columbia.
- Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody secured monetary relief for consumers who were reportedly deceived by a pet store that sold sick or dying puppies. A consumer protection investigation against Hoof’s Pets, Inc., doing business as Petland Orlando East and Petland Waterford Lakes, revealed consumer complaints alleging Petland misrepresented the health and quality of the puppies sold, dishonored pet warranties and violated parts of Florida’s Pet Lemon Law. Following Attorney General Moody’s action, Petland has paid more than $200,000 in monetary relief to consumers.
- Attorney General Moody also sued two hot tub and spa companies for deceptive business practices. Alejandro Flores-Ramirez, owner of Affordable Spa Covers and Coverlex, deceived consumers with fake fast-delivery estimates and expedited shipping fees. According to an investigation by Attorney General Moody’s Consumer Protection Division, Ramirez operated the spa cover retail and manufacturing businesses that accepted payments for hundreds of goods that arrived months after the promised delivery day or were never delivered at all.
- Attorney General Moody secured more than $13 million in an antitrust case against major automotive parts manufacturers. The funds come at the conclusion of an investigation against more than 60 manufacturers, including Panasonic and Mitsubishi Electric. The investigation into the companies’ conduct found evidence of the manufacturers fixing prices and rigging contract bids.
- Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita warned Indiana residents about scams in the wake of winter weather emergencies.
- Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and the Iowa Division of Banking reached a settlement with the Transportation Alliance Bank and EasyPay. Following Miller’s allegation that the Transportation Alliance Bank failed to comply with the Iowa Consumer Credit Code, the bank must now cease issuing loans in Iowa that exceed the state’s interest rate cap and provide refunds to consumers who were charged the illegal interest rates.
- Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh publicized that his Consumer Protection Division reached a settlement with mortgage lender Caliber Homes, Inc. concerning its advertising practices. Caliber was accused of sending mailers to approximately 220,000 Maryland consumers between May 2019 through March 2021 that deceptively displayed the name and address of the consumers’ original mortgage on the mailer’s envelope.
- Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced that a mortgage servicing company will pay $975,000 and change its business practices to resolve allegations that the company failed to make required efforts to help homeowners avoid foreclosure and engaged in other unfair debt collection and mortgage servicing practices.
- In advance of the winter storms, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel reminded residents to be alert for government imposters or bad actors attempting to provide relief in emergency situations, and to know the law if their vehicle is towed due to an emergency situation.
- New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella announced a settlement with DMO Auto Acquisitions, LLC resolving allegations that the company engaged in the use of deceptive sales pitches, fraudulent inflation of customer income, and forgery of loan documentation. DMO has agreed to pay restitution to customers, $1.25 million to the attorney general, and to implement a number of business practices to avoid similar actions in the future.
- New Jersey Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division of Consumer Affairs announced settlements with six car dealerships totaling more than $260,000 to resolve allegations of consumer protection violations. The dealerships allegedly failed to list prior accidents, damage, and repairs made to vehicles; failed to honor the advertised price of a used car; charged excessive vehicle preparation fees that were not itemized or properly disclosed to the consumer; failed to provide a written warranty; failed to disclose the full sale price of a motor vehicle; and engaged in deceptive advertising. The dealerships will pay civil monetary penalties, fees, and costs. The dealerships have also agreed to injunctive relief that prohibits them from engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices.
- New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a settlement with Herff Jones, a student cap and gown producer, resolving allegations that the company failed to protect consumers’ personal information after an April 2021 data breach exposed the credit card information of thousands of consumers.
- New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Cold Spring Hills Center, a nursing and rehabilitation center, for allegedly engaging in financial fraud and self-dealing that led to severe understaffing and resident neglect and harm. According to the complaint, Cold Spring Hills’ owners diverted over $22.6 million in Medicaid and Medicare funds from resident care through a fraudulent network of companies. In addition, the owners allegedly cut staffing at the 588-bed facility, which created poor working conditions and endangered residents. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief, damages, and civil penalties.
- New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a settlement with Stewart Title Guaranty Corporation, one of the largest title insurance underwriters, ending Stewart’s harmful no-poach agreements with its competitors and requiring a payment of $2.5 million for those agreements.
- Attorney General James issued an alert reminding consumers and businesses across the state against price gouging during and in the aftermath of Winter Storm Elliott. She also cautioned consumers and businesses not to price gouge children’s painkillers and fever reducers as the demand increases for those medications because of this year’s “tripledemic” of COVID-19, RSV, and the flu.
- Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced a settlement with Thomas E. Theriault, a Haverhill landlord, resolving allegations that he presented falsified documents to obtain $20,000 in housing subsidies from the Department of Housing and Community Development. In addition, Theriault allegedly did not have the apartments inspected, and instead knowingly changed the dates on outdated certificates of occupancy for two rental units. According to the settlement, Theriault will pay the state double damages of $40,000 and is permanently barred from accepting any type of rental housing payment or subsidy from the state in the future.
- North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced that North Carolina’s price gouging law is in effect after Governor Roy Cooper declared a statewide state of emergency ahead of freezing weather. In North Carolina, the price gouging statute goes into effect when the governor or the legislature declare a state of emergency.
- Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced a lawsuit against Florida-based MV Realty PBC, LLC and its founder, Amanda Zachman for allegedly violating state consumer protection laws. According to the complaint, defendants misled consumers in the state regarding the terms of the company’s so-called Homeowner Benefit Program and obtained mortgages on consumers’ homes without their knowledge. Allegedly, consumers who attempted to withdraw from the program faced the risk of substantial penalties or faced the risk of having a mortgage placed against their property. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief, damages, and civil penalties.
- Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Albertsons, Kroger and Rite Aid, whose pharmacy chains helped fuel Washington state’s opioid epidemic. Ferguson asserts the pharmacies served as the last line of defense in the opioid supply chain and failed in their collective responsibility to prevent the overuse of opioid prescriptions. Attorney General Ferguson also announced resolutions with five other companies that produced or sold opioids, bringing Washington’s total recovery to more than $1.1 billion to fund opioid abatement and treatment programs.
- Attorney General Ferguson also announced that Lakewood-based WGS Guns will pay $15,000 for intentionally violating Washington’s high-capacity magazine sales ban.
- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey urged residents to be wary of calls during the holiday season claiming that grandchildren need help. Scammers have been known to call senior citizens pretending to be their grandchild or claiming to be law enforcement with news about a loved one.