Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently made headlines around the country by announcing that he was lifting physical distancing restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in Florida. The Governor’s order allows restaurants to open at full capacity, and prevents cities and counties from ordering them to operate at less than half capacity unless justified by health or economic reasons. Florida cities and counties are also barred from collecting fines for violations of social distancing or mask rules. But, while such actions may seem to indicate an imminent return to something resembling normalcy, or at least the end of widespread social distancing restrictions, it is important for companies to remember that price gouging laws may not follow the same path.

Indeed, while Florida’s Governor has moved to re-open the state’s economy, the Florida Attorney General has continued to actively monitor and enforce compliance with the state’s price gouging law, including by continuing to operate the state’s price gouging hotline. And as Florida continues to deal with the aftermath of the hurricane season, it is likely that price gouging laws will continue to remain in effect there for some time to come

Florida does not stand alone as the only state attempting to both re-open its economy while also maintaining its price gouging laws. In Texas, the Governor likewise loosened social distancing restrictions, allowing many businesses to operate at 75% capacity. These businesses, previously allowed to operate at only 50% capacity, include retail stores, restaurants, and office buildings. However, as in Florida, the move to physically re-open businesses does not mean a similar freedom of pricing actions, as Texas’ current price gouging law is set to remain in effect indefinitely under the President’s national emergency declaration, which currently has no end date.

On the other hand, the fact that a state is still under a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic does not mean that the state’s price gouging laws are necessarily still in place. Recently, both Wisconsin and Hawaii allowed their price gouging laws to expire, despite the fact that each state remains in a state of emergency. Just as a business should not simply assume they are safe to raise prices because social distancing restrictions have been lifted, a company should not assume it cannot raise prices until all government measures related to the pandemic have ceased.

Therefore, companies must remain vigilant in monitoring the legal landscapes in which they operate, and not assume that price gouging laws either are or are not in operation because of other trends in the headlines. Given that the statutes of limitations for many state price gouging laws will allow plaintiffs to bring claims for several years into the future, it is important that price gouging remain a key compliance concern for businesses for the foreseeable future.

*      *      *

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

*      *      *

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

John is a partner at the Firm, advising on the full range of foreign investment and antitrust matters across industries, including chemicals, pharmaceutical, medical devices, telecommunications, financial services consumer goods and health care. He is the first call clients make in matters relating…

John is a partner at the Firm, advising on the full range of foreign investment and antitrust matters across industries, including chemicals, pharmaceutical, medical devices, telecommunications, financial services consumer goods and health care. He is the first call clients make in matters relating to competition and antitrust, CFIUS or foreign investment issues.

For more than 25 years, John 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, joint ventures, or price gouging compliance.

John’s practice focuses on the analysis and resolution of CFIUS and antitrust issues related to mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures, and the analysis and assessment of pre-merger CFIUS and HSR notification requirements. He advises clients on issues related to CFIUS national security reviews, and on CFIUS submissions when non-U.S. buyers seek to acquire U.S. businesses that have national security sensitivities.  He also regularly advises clients on international antitrust issues arising in proposed acquisitions and joint ventures, including reportability under the EC Merger Regulation and numerous other foreign merger control regimes.

His knowledge, reputation and extensive experience with the legal, practical, and technical requirements of merger clearance make him a recognized authority on Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust merger review. John is regularly invited to participate in Federal Trade Commission and bar association meetings and takes on the issues of the day.

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.