Attorneys General in Virginia and North Carolina Continue to Prosecute Hurricane Ike Price Gouging Cases

Michael Giberson

Another few price gouging cases settled by the Attorneys General of Virginia and North Carolina arising from complaints filed during Hurricane Ike in September 2008.  From North Carolina, via the AG’s press release:

Cooper filed suit in October of 2008 against Steve Compton, owner and manager of Tire Pro, also known as Troy BP, located at 104 Courthouse Square in Troy, contending that the gas station raised its prices on September 12, 2008 from less than $4 a gallon to $5.99 per gallon. Fortunately, no consumers purchased gas at that inflated price, according to the Attorney General’s investigation.

To resolve price gouging claims, Compton will pay $2,000 to an energy assistance fund, $5,000 in civil penalties to North Carolina schools, and $800 to cover the costs of the investigation. [Read the settlement agreement with Compton.]

Links, in the original press release, show the text of the state’s complaint and the settlement agreement.  So “no consumers purchased gas at that inflated price,” but the price gouging claim sticks, anyway?  And what’s with using price gouging cases to raise money for North Carolina schools and energy assistance funds?  The AG also settled a claim against another retailer who in fact sold gasoline at as much as $5.679 on similar terms.

North Carolina TV station WRAL has a related story online which includes links to several related stories from over the past year.

In Virginia, last Friday the AG announced a price gouging settlement with a retailer in Appomattox County:

“Virginia’s Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act leaves room for standard market forces to work in times of disaster and prohibits only the charging of unconscionable prices for necessary goods and services during those rare times,” Attorney General Mims said. “I am hopeful that our seventh price gouging settlement will send the message that we intend to enforce our statute. We will continue to do so in a reasonable and fair manner.”

In the Complaint filed along with the Assurance, the Attorney General alleges that certain prices Pamplin Exxon charged for gasoline on the evening of Friday, Sept. 12, 2008, were unconscionable as grossly exceeding the price the station charged during the 10 days immediately before the declaration. …

The settlement enjoins Pamplin Exxon from engaging in any of the practices alleged … and requires Pamplin Exxon to set aside $500 for consumer restitution.

… The settlement further requires Pamplin Exxon to pay $1,250 to reimburse the Commonwealth for its costs, investigative expenses and attorneys’ fees in this matter. And the settlement requires Pamplin Exxon to make a contribution of $500 to the Salvation Army for disaster relief purposes. This payment is in lieu of a payment of civil penalties.

See also the  story from the Lynchburg, VA News and Advance.  The story mentions an earlier settlement of a price gouging complaint in the area for a station that had raised prices for only 12 hours.

Curious: the North Carolina Attorney General charged the object of its attention only $800 for the costs of the investigation while the Virginia Attorney General charged $1,250.  The Virginia price is more than 50 percent higher than the North Carolina price for cases announced on the same week.  Is rampant inefficiency making the costs of state legal activity much higher in Virginia, or is the AG’s office “gouging” gasoline retailers charged with price gouging?

(On the other hand, Virginia apparently demands – I’m resisting the term “extorts,” but it seems to fit – a much lower contribution to vaguely-related charitable organizations as the price of avoiding civil penalties.)

2 thoughts on “Attorneys General in Virginia and North Carolina Continue to Prosecute Hurricane Ike Price Gouging Cases

  1. Elsewhere I have mentioned my distaste for using state-funded legal action as a tool for raising contributions to private charity. Does an Attorney General really have the legal authority to negotiate contributions to private charities as a way of avoiding trial for alleged crimes? If I’m charged with burglary, can I beg off prosecution by contributing to a Neighborhood Watch fund?

    If the AG wants to negotiate a payment to the state “in lieu of” civil penalties, that seems reasonable: the AG is an agent of the state. Using taxpayer supported criminal investigations to drum up money for a private charity does not seem reasonable to me.

    Related, this discussion of cy pres awards in class action suits. Cy pres awards are payments made to charities not directly involved in the class action suit but involved in actions that can be construed as providing somehow related relief. The price gouging cases don’t involve a class action suit, but otherwise the similarities are strong.

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