Many companies have increased prices in recent months.  Reportedly, across the economy, prices “rose by 5 percent in May compared with a year ago.” Restaurants are raising prices to cover the cost of increases in wages in a tight labor market.  The prices of used and rental cars are quickly rising, due to low inventory and higher demand. Gasoline prices have risen, and not just as a result of the recent cyberattack.

While this may be a positive sign for the economy, it is happening at a time when many state price gouging laws remain activated. What will happen if consumers object to these higher prices, and either report them to their local attorneys general or explore legal action on their own?

This is no time for companies to let their guard downs and become the target for such suits. Some states have ended the states of emergencies that trigger price limits, but many more have not yet taken that step. Additionally, over two dozen states’ price gouging laws recognize a private right of action, and many of those states’ laws are still activated.

That said, prices alone may not tell the whole story, and the usual caveats apply. Many state price gouging statutes incorporate  justifications and exceptions that act as a complete defense where, for example, the seller can prove the price increase was directly attributable to its own rising costs. Undoubtedly, many of the escalations we have seen in recent months are responsive to increases in raw materials, energy, and transportation. Businesses understandably would like to recoup some of the increase in costs.

When considering price increases, the sensible approach is still to consider what constraints might apply, including:

  • Whether relevant state price gouging laws are still in effect,
  • Whether your goods or services are covered by any effective laws,
  • How price gouging is determined under those laws,
  • Who has authority to sue for violations, and
  • What justifications and defenses might be available.

Price gouging violations at the tail end of the pandemic are just as actionable as those during the more uncertain days. By keeping common sense price gouging compliance and documenting at the forefront, companies can remain prepared and in control in the event claims are made or investigations are initiated for price increases as the country and the economy opens back up.

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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 Shannon D. McGowan Shannon D. McGowan

Shannon McGowan earned her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, where she captained the school’s Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court team.

Prior to law school, Shannon served as a legislative assistant to state representatives at the Oklahoma State…

Shannon McGowan earned her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, where she captained the school’s Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court team.

Prior to law school, Shannon served as a legislative assistant to state representatives at the Oklahoma State House of Representatives.