Are New Jersey ‘outsiders’ More Likely to Be Accused of Price Gouging?

Michael Giberson

A few weeks ago I posted “Are ‘outsiders’ more likely to be accused of price gouging?

Having noticed that all four persons arrested in Mississippi for price gouging after Hurricane Isaac had surnames indicating family origins in India, I wondered about the potential for discrimination in the application of price gouging laws. First, the laws typically grant some discretion in application to the state, which I suggested was unlikely to favor outsider groups. Second, enforcement of the law in particular cases is almost always triggered by consumer complaint, which gives consumer bias a key role in anti-price gouging law enforcement.

The State of New Jersey recently announced a settlement of the single price gouging complaint pursued after Tropical Storm Irene hit the state in August 2011. (NJ press release here.) Thakur Gas LLC, doing business as Lukoil in Sussex County, NJ, agreed to a $50,000 (!!!) settlement without admitting liability in order to resolve the claim (with $20,000 payable now and $30,000 suspended so long as the company isn’t found in violation of consumer law within the next three year). The owner and president of Thakur Gas is Ranbir Singh.

Of course, one more report is not the same as a systematic study of anti-price gouging law enforcement.

And there are cases of price gouging law enforcement against folks who, at least by my casual reading of news stories, don’t appear to be outsiders.

One further possibility is that “outsiders” are more likely to engage in price gouging behaviors. Social distance between buyers and sellers can work both ways, after all.

Still, I couldn’t help but notice that the only New Jersey price gouging case targeted a station owned by a Mr. Singh.