Each week, Crowell & Moring’s State Attorneys General team highlights significant actions that State AGs have taken. Here are this week’s updates.
- A coalition of 17 state attorneys general sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration urging the agencies to evaluate their authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate microfiber pollution, and to direct funding and research into the environmental and health harms caused by microfibers and washing machine technology solutions.
- A coalition of 11 state attorneys general announced a settlement with Visibly Inc (f/k/a Opternative Inc.), an online telehealth company that markets and sells an online vision test, among other products, resolving an investigation into deceptive business practices. The investigation, which began after a letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Visibly about some of its marketing tactics, raised concerns about unsubstantiated claims made by Visibly regarding the accuracy and safety of its online test, including that it was as accurate as an in-person exam. In addition, the investigation evaluated Visibly’s misrepresentations about other product aspects, including customer satisfaction rates and satisfaction guarantees. According to the settlement, Visibly must pay monetary relief and follow a number of injunctive practices, such as not marketing or selling any product to consumers unless it can be legally marketed or sold in accordance with the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act or other FDA authority.
- A coalition of 19 state attorneys general sent a letter to JPMorgan Chase & Co. urging the company to stop engaging in discriminating practices against consumers due to their religious or political affiliations. The attorneys general argue that Chase “has not extended its openness and inclusivity to everyone,” and points out the company’s alleged pattern of targeting and denying service to religious and conservative-leaning customers, like the National Committee for Religious Freedom, which has a leadership made up of Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and people of various faiths. The coalition’s letter also calls for greater transparency in how the bank treats viewpoint diversity.
- Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced a series of settlements with the four largest guaranteed automobile protection (GAP) administrators operating in the state: (1) Safe-Guard International Products, Inc.; (2) Jim Moran & Associates, Inc.; (3) Norman & Co., Inc.; and (4) National Auto Care Corporation. The settlement, which provides $2.87 million in restitution to 3,550 Colorado vehicle owners, resolves allegations that consumers did not receive the full benefit of their full GAP coverage because the GAP administrators allegedly did not pay full coverage owed to consumers under Colorado law.
- Connecticut Attorney General William Tong announced a settlement with Integrity Admin Group, Inc., a home warranty company, resolving allegations that the company engaged in misleading marketing practices such as high-pressure mailings that created a false sense of urgency with phrases like “final notice” and “immediate response requested.” As part of the settlement, Integrity Admin Group has agreed to pay $10,000 and has committed to end its allegedly deceptive marketing practices.
- Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and United States Attorney Vanessa Roberts Avery announced a civil settlement with Northeast Medical Group and Yale New Haven Health Services Corp. totaling $560,718, which resolves allegations that the entities overbilled the federal Medicare and Connecticut Medicaid programs.
- Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a cease-and-desist letter to Intoxalock, a company that manufactures, sells, and installs “breath alcohol ignition interlock devices”, regarding misleading advertisements. According to the Office of the Attorney General, the company has been contacting individuals who have entered pleas for operating while intoxicated but have not been sentenced. The advertisements also allegedly appear to come from a governmental entity or to reflect a mandatory obligation resulting from a legal proceeding. The solicitations identify consumers, by name and address, as having been charged with OWI offenses. In addition to the consumers’ name and address, the solicitations purport to identify the consumers’ arrest date and a “charge code” of OWI.
- New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Governor Phil Murphy announced that all 21 counties and 241 municipalities eligible for direct distributions have signed onto the nationwide settlement agreements with pharmacy chains Walgreens, and Walmart, and drug makers, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Allergan, resolving allegations that these entities contributed to the country’s opioid crisis. The state and its eligible counties and municipalities will receive approximately $508.1 million under the settlement. Teva, Allergan, CVS, and Walgreens are expected to announce by June 8, 2023, whether their settlements will go forward, which depends on whether enough state subdivisions from around the country have signed on. The Walmart settlement is effective once sign-on is achieved by a specific percentage of the aggregate population of litigating subdivisions and the aggregate population of other subdivisions. The State of New Jersey is expected to receive opioid abatement funds from all five companies, which will be split 50/50 between the State and its eligible subdivisions pursuant to the Memorandum of Agreement Between the State of New Jersey and Local Governments on Opioid Litigation Recoveries.
- New York Attorney General Letitia James and California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a joint investigation into allegations of employment discrimination and a hostile work environment at the National Football League. The company has offices in both states with more than 1,000 employees. The joint investigation will examine the workplace culture of the NFL and allegations made by former employees, including potential violations of federal and state pay equity laws and anti-discrimination laws. This isn’t the first time the NFL has been accused of improper workplace practices. In April 2022, Attorney General James led a coalition of six attorneys general in a letter sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to express their concerns and call on the league to address allegations of workplace inequity. In addition, multiple lawsuits have been filed against the NFL alleging, age, sex, and gender discrimination, a hostile work environment, and sexual harassment.
- New York Attorney General Letitia James released a statement in support of the new rules announced by President Joe Biden’s administration requiring airlines to compensate passengers for cancellations or significant delays. The statement noted that airlines have inconvenienced millions of Americans by overbooking flights and that “New Yorkers, and all Americans, deserve to know that airlines will live up to their promises, and pay the consequences when they are at fault for cancellations and delays.”
- New York Attorney General Letitia James announced legislation to tighten regulations on the cryptocurrency industry to protect investors, consumers, and the broader economy. The bill would require independent public audits of cryptocurrency exchanges and prevent individuals from owning the same companies, such as brokerages and tokens, to stop conflicts of interest. Crypto platforms would also have responsibilities to customers similar to banks under the federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act by requiring platforms to reimburse customers who are the victims of fraud. The bill would also strengthen the New York State Department of Financial Services’ regulatory authority of digital assets. The bill proposes one of the strongest and most comprehensive set of regulations on cryptocurrency in the nation.
- Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a lawsuit against two Wyoming-based businesses and their owner, Cameron Groom, for sending hundreds of thousands of allegedly deceptive texts and emails to Washington businesses and nonprofits. Tens of thousands of text message solicitations, designed to appear as though they were sent from the Washington Secretary of State, demanded $200 to file annual reports with that office. The texts also did not disclose that businesses can file required annual reports directly with the Secretary of State’s Office for $60. The complaint seeks restitution for affected businesses, interest, and civil penalties.
- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced a settlement with Kroger for $68 million, resolving allegations that the pharmacy chain failed to maintain effective controls as a distributor and dispenser against diversion that contributed to oversupply of opioids in the state. Kroger has agreed to pay $34 million immediately, $12 million on June 30, 2024, and $12 million on June 30, 2025, and then a series of lower payments over the next seven years totaling $10 millin to reach the $68 million total. The money from all opioid settlements will be distributed under the terms of the West Virginia First Memorandum of Understanding which allows for the creation of the West Virginia First Foundation.