Six months into the states of emergencies triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a sizeable amount of data on how prices have actually moved, potentially leading to more private actions as plaintiffs’ now have the opportunity to review prices retroactively and establish claims based on hard data.

Reports have noted the impact of the pandemic on food and drug prices, for example. In a recent post, we flagged a report from a consumer watchdog group, noting how it leveraged some of that that data to shine light on a handful of notable price increases for products sold by and through Amazon during the pandemic. The group analyzed pricing on a handful of productsfrom May through August, and found that prices had been marked up well in excess of many price gouging limitations, including, for example, price increases of up to 425% on flour sold by Amazon and up to 941% increases on flour sold by third-party sellers through Amazon.

A class action proceeding pending against Amazon based on price gouging allegations was filed in April. Private actions have also been filed against other retailers and online platforms related to purchases of goods such as N-95 masks, disinfectants, eggs, and even wine storage. This is likely only the tip of the iceberg.

While most states of emergency remain in effect, companies have likely acclimated to many of the present economic and social challenges. Companies and industries that have not yet been targeted by state attorneys general or private plaintiffs are not necessarily out of the woods with respect to price gouging allegations. Indeed, it is extremely unlikely that Amazon will be the only company facing this sort of backward-looking attention from advocacy groups, let alone from plaintiffsgiven the time and opportunity to review months of data.

Pricing data alone may not tell the whole story.  Price gouging laws – which have received limited analysis in the past – are subject to limitations, based on potential ambiguities, exceptions and defenses. The raw data does not control for factors affecting prices paid by consumers, nor will it isolate the impact of industry-specific facts, cost or supply factors, and the nature of demand. The prudent course is to document any justifications for pricing movements so that defenses are at the ready in the event claims are made or investigations are initiated against your company.

 

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Visit Proskauer on Price Gouging for antitrust insights on COVID-19.

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Proskauer’s cross-disciplinary, cross-jurisdictional Coronavirus Response Team is focused on supporting and addressing client concerns. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Center for guidance on risk management measures, practical steps businesses can take and resources to help manage ongoing operations.

Photo of Christopher E. Ondeck Christopher E. Ondeck

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s nationwide Antitrust Group. He represents clients in civil and criminal antitrust litigation, defending mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, defending companies involved in government investigations, and providing antitrust counseling.

Chris has handled antitrust matters…

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s nationwide Antitrust Group. He represents clients in civil and criminal antitrust litigation, defending mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, defending companies involved in government investigations, and providing antitrust counseling.

Chris has handled antitrust matters for clients in a number of industries, including advertising, aerospace, alcoholic beverages, appliances, building materials, consumer products, defense, franchise, medical devices, metals, mining, natural resources, oil and gas, packaging, pharmaceuticals, software and telecommunications. He also has developed substantial experience advising clients regarding the application of the antitrust laws to the pharmaceutical industry, the agriculture industry, trade associations and the energy industry.

Photo of John R. Ingrassia John R. Ingrassia

When competition or antitrust questions arise, John Ingrassia is sought out for his knowledge, reputation and credentials.

John is a recognized authority on Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust merger review, and for more than 20 years has counselled businesses facing the most challenging antitrust issues and…

When competition or antitrust questions arise, John Ingrassia is sought out for his knowledge, reputation and credentials.

John is a recognized authority on Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust merger review, and for more than 20 years has counselled businesses facing the most challenging antitrust issues and helped them stay out of the crosshairs — whether its distribution, pricing, channel management, mergers, acquisitions or joint ventures.

John is a senior counsel at the Firm, advising on the full range of antitrust matters in diverse industries, including chemicals, pharmaceutical, medical devices, telecommunications, financial services and health care, among others.  His practice focuses on the analysis and resolution of antitrust issues related to mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures, and the analysis and assessment of pre-merger notification requirements. John has extensive experience with the legal, practical, and technical requirements of merger clearance and is regularly invited to participate in Federal Trade Commission and bar association meetings regarding Hart-Scott-Rodino practice issues.

Photo of Kelly Landers Hawthorne Kelly Landers Hawthorne

Kelly Landers Hawthorne is an associate in the Litigation Department.

While at Columbia, she served as an articles editor of the Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts and was involved with the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic.  She also worked as…

Kelly Landers Hawthorne is an associate in the Litigation Department.

While at Columbia, she served as an articles editor of the Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts and was involved with the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic.  She also worked as a judicial intern for the Honorable Sandra Townes of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Kelly is a Teach For America alumnus and taught middle school special education and math in Washington, D.C. prior to law school.

Photo of Nathaniel Miller Nathaniel Miller

Nat Miller is an associate in the Litigation Department.

Nat earned a J.D. degree from NYU School of Law, where he was a Managing Editor of the Journal of Law & Business, and a B.A. from Harvard University. While at NYU Law, he…

Nat Miller is an associate in the Litigation Department.

Nat earned a J.D. degree from NYU School of Law, where he was a Managing Editor of the Journal of Law & Business, and a B.A. from Harvard University. While at NYU Law, he worked as a research assistant for Professor Arthur R. Miller on his treatise, Federal Practice and Procedure. After law school, Nat served as a law clerk to the Honorable Claria Horn Boom of the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky.

Photo of Nicollette R. Moser Nicollette R. Moser

Nicollette Moser is an associate in the Litigation Department and a member of the Antitrust Group.

Photo of Jennifer Tarr Jennifer Tarr

Jennifer E. Tarr is an associate in the Litigation Department.