Minding Your Business

Proskauer’s perspective on developments and trends in commercial litigation.

The pandemic has demonstrated that price gouging laws are not only written in an ambiguous manner, but are ambiguous as to whether they are in effect or not. A recurring problem faced by businesses is that some states are not widely circulating information about whether their price gouging laws are still active, when they expire, or whether they’ve already expired. As a result, law abiding businesses may find it difficult to find accurate, publicly available information about price gouging law end dates.…
While the majority of price gouging enforcement has occurred at the state level (see Proskauer on Price Gouging — A Coast-to-Coast Reference Guide), the federal government has also been active, and several federal price gouging bills have been introduced, though none have been signed into law. See, e.g., S. 3574 (empowers the FTC and Attorney General to enforce civil and criminal penalties for price gouging); H.R. 6472 (prohibits “unconscionably excessive” pricing “indicating the seller is using the circumstances related to” the emergency to increase prices); H.R. 6264 (creates a new criminal offense for price gouging during a state of…
In times of crisis, fraudsters attempt to exploit the latest news developments to lure investors into scams, and the once-in-a-century global health crisis we are currently facing is no exception. On February 4, 2020, the SEC noted in an Investor Alert that it was aware of a number of web-based promotions claiming that the products or services of publicly-traded companies could prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19—and that the stock of these companies would skyrocket as a result. The Investor Alert warned market participants to be vigilant and put publicly-traded companies on notice that the Commission is watching.…
Understanding and Reacting to New and Increased Risks Businesses are facing new and increased risks as they work to continue operations and meet changing demand. The unprecedented duration and nationwide scope of the emergency has created additional complexities for companies that operate on a nationwide basis. They often must comply with price gouging laws in many more states and over a substantially longer period of time than has ever occurred in any prior emergency in which price gouging laws were activated.…
During the pandemic, businesses are asking about their potential price gouging liability in states that they do not sell into directly but where their products might end up. At least one federal circuit court addressed this question in examining a Maryland price gouging law that covered pharmaceuticals (outside the emergency context), ultimately striking down the law as a violation of the dormant Commerce Clause in a split decision.…
As businesses figure out how to be creative and continue to operate during the pandemic, some have turned to “COVID surcharges” to account for new or increased costs. “Surcharges” may seem more benign than direct price increases. Still, they need to be considered with an eye towards compliance with local price gouging laws.…
Despite the continued implementation of state price gouging laws, many companies have been able to legally raise their prices by relying on exceptions related to cost increases. Many have asked whether the exception nevertheless presents risk to the extent it is used as a basis to maintain current margin levels. While this is not a settled question, there are good arguments that cost increase exceptions would typically permit a company to maintain its current margin levels.…
As new restrictions addressing the economic impacts of COVID-19 continue to be proposed, some are targeting price increases for services. Businesses may want to re-familiarize themselves with the “services” covered by existing price gouging laws and pay close attention to developments, as they may cover unexpected areas.…
On June 3, 2020, Proskauer’s Antitrust Group hosted a webinar on what supply chain businesses should know about price gouging laws and regulations, and, during and after the webinar, we fielded some thoughtful follow-up questions from clients and friends who attended. We have collected and provided answers to the questions we received below in an effort to further inform and share insights on price gouging concerns raised by attendees. Thank you to all who joined us for the webinar.…
In response to the current pandemic, antitrust enforcers at the Department of Justice have been issuing business review letters at record pace.  One of these business review letters addressed an inquiry from the pork industry about reducing supply based on the COVID pandemic disruption.  This raises the question as to whether the DOJ letter about antitrust has any application to increases in price and price gouging statutes.   …
States around the country have activated their price gouging statutes due to the COVID 19 pandemic.  These temporary restrictions typically go into effect upon the declaration of a local, state or national emergency.  However, even though all the emergency declaration began at roughly the same time (the first week of March 2020), they likely will end at very different times. States are taking much different approaches to their predicted end-dates for their price gouging restrictions.…
As state investigators across the country launch price gouging investigations, one thing is becoming clear – state price gouging investigations can look a lot like antitrust investigations. Price gouging enforcement is at an all-time high, and more and more it is being combined with antitrust and unfair trade practice investigations. This overlap can be bad news for companies facing potential price gouging claims, and it further highlights the need for compliance with both price gouging and antitrust statutes. This article explores the interaction between antitrust enforcement and price gouging enforcement, and sets forth key issue-spotting guidance for companies that are…
In today’s world, cybersecurity breaches and threats are pervasive concerns for any business entity, without exception. Working from home arrangements due to COVID-19 constraints only magnify the risk and create further vulnerabilities for companies. Companies should be aware of (1) the key cyber threats they face, (2) the consequences of a breach, and (3) the statutory and regulatory framework governing cybersecurity. Cybersecurity breaches are unique in that an entity can both be the victim of the breach and still be found to have a degree of responsibility. Fortunately, there are precautionary measures that companies can implement to help prevent…
Though much attention has been paid to state price gouging laws, several states without price gouging laws have nevertheless been active enforcers. Governors in many of these states have issued executive orders empowering their enforcers to target price gouging. Other states have repurposed existing laws to target price gouging. Price gouging in these states may pose greater compliance risk than in states with specific price gouging laws because these the states may not have statutory definitions or clear standards for what conduct constitutes unlawful price gouging. In this post, we consider price gouging rules and enforcement in states without price…
State Attorneys General are not the only ones enforcing price gouging laws in the current pandemic. Many states also provide a private right of action for victims of price gouging. Depending on the state, private litigants may seek injunctions, civil penalties, or even damages under state price gouging statutes and consumer protection laws. These remedies, and recent case filings, highlight the importance of price gouging compliance during this unprecedented global pandemic.…
Proskauer’s antitrust practice group has developed a State Price Gouging Laws: A Coast-to-Coast Reference Guide to help your business manage price gouging compliance during the COVID-19 emergency. State price gouging measures cast a wide and varied range of coverage, such that compliance at the national level means knowing each state’s covered products and services, permitted price increases, if any, and available defenses such as cost increases. Many price gouging state laws presently in effect reach upstream players in the supply chain and some include private rights of action, and even where a private right of action is not explicitly provided…