Each week, Crowell & Moring’s State Attorneys General team highlights significant actions that State AGs have taken. Here are this week’s updates.
- A coalition of 21 state attorneys general filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in Reese, et al. v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, et al, supporting the federal government’s prohibition on the sale of handguns and related ammunition by federally-licensed retailers to consumers under the age of 21. The attorneys general argue that the Second Amendment allows governments to enact certain regulations to protect the public, such as age-based restrictions on the purchase and possession of firearms. Regulations vary by state, but almost every state has imposed some form of an age-based regulation. Many state regulations copy the federal minimum age requirement of 21 to purchase handguns.
- A coalition of 49 state attorneys general filed a lawsuit against Avid Telecom, its owner Michael Lansky, and its vice president Stacey Reeves for allegedly sending more than 7.5 billion calls to telephone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and other federal and state telemarketing and consumer laws. The attorneys general assert that Avid Telecom, a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service provider, sent or transmitted a number of scam calls, including Social Security Administration scams, Medicare scams, auto warranty scams, Amazon scams, DirecTV scams, credit card interest rate reduction scams, and employment scams. The legal action arises from the nationwide Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force of 51 bipartisan attorneys general.
- A coalition of 16 attorneys general submitted a comment letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which are proposing reforms to the tenant screening process. In their letter, the attorneys general underscore just some of their concerns with the current tenant screening process: (1) prospective tenants are often subject to inflated and hidden application fees; (2) tenant screening reports compiled and sold by tenant screening companies often contain inaccuracies that can lead to rental applicants being denied housing; and (3) landlords and tenant screening companies increasingly rely on problematic screening algorithms that combine various information to generate a single score or result indicating how “safe” it would be to rent to a prospective tenant.
- A coalition of 23 state attorneys general, led by Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, filed an amici curiae in support of individuals suing Merck & Co. for injuries they suffered using Merck’s osteoporosis drug Fosamax. The plaintiffs in the underlying suit allege that they suffered atypical femur fractures from long term use of the drug between 1999 and 2010, and claim that Merck knew about the risk before finally adding it to the warning label in 2011. The plaintiffs are appealing the U.S. District Court’s ruling that the claims of failure to warn of the risk of atypical femoral fractures were preempted because the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) rejected a warning label that discussed the risks of a stress fractures—a risk that the attorneys general argue is different than the atypical femur fractures the plaintiffs suffered in this case. Attorney General Miyares and the other state attorneys general wrote that the District Court’s decision “risks undermining core principles of federalism and could prevent states from allowing their citizens to hold pharmaceutical companies to account for their actions.”
- A coalition of 17 state attorneys general submitted a comment letter supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to better protect Americans’ drinking water supply. Published on March 29, 2023, the EPA proposed the first-ever rule to set drinking water standards for certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as “PFAS” or toxic “forever chemicals.” Specifically, the EPA’s proposed rule would: (1) set a contaminant limit of four parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS; (2) set a Hazard Index of 1.0 as the contaminant limit in drinking water for the four remaining PFAS chemicals — PFHxS, GenX, PFNA, and PFBS — and any mixture containing one or more of them; and (3) require a public water system that exceeds the above limits to take action to treat and/or address the problematic water source.
- A coalition of 42 state attorneys general, led by Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, announced a settlement with Suboxone drug maker, Indivior Inc., resolving allegations that the company used illegal means to switch the Suboxone market from tablets to film while attempting to destroy the market for tablets, in order to preserve its drug monopoly. Pursuant to the settlement, the maker of the drug used to treat opioid use disorder is required to pay $102.5 million to the states.
District of Columbia
- District of Columbia Attorney General Schwalb announced resolutions in multiple housing cases, against the owners of four apartment complexes, Foster House, Marbury Plaza, Garfield Court Apartments, and Concorde Gardens. In the varied cases, the judges ruled in favor of the attorney general finding the apartment complex owners failed to comply with prior court orders and housing code requirements related to health, safety, and security.
- Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird announced the addition of two new staff members to her senior team. Bird named Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Susan Krisko and Deputy Attorney General for Consumer Protection Daniel Barnes to serve in the Attorney General’s office.
- Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced a Notice of Intended Action to iDrive Academy, LLC to secure student refunds following iDrive’s surrender of its driver education provider certification. The Michigan Department of State (MDOS) requested the assistance of the Department of Attorney General and COD after a number of driver complaints filed with MDOS that described iDrive’s deceptive business practices, misleading marketing tactics, and failure to make refunds for driving classes that were paid for but never provided. iDrive is also accused of offering driver instruction to adult students whom it was not certified to instruct, as well as misrepresenting or falsifying course completion records. The Department’s intended action, outlined in the notice, is to file suit seeking all available remedies to protect consumers’ rights, including injunctive relief, imposition of civil fines, and appropriate compensation, should iDrive not provide assurance of voluntary compliance.
- Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that he has filed a lawsuit against property-management company Madison Equities, the largest landowner in downtown Saint Paul, alleging that the company used its subsidiary companies to deprive security officers of wages they were owed under Minnesota law, and that it illegally retaliated against a worker who came forward to expose these practices.
- Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that he has filed a lawsuit against Reynolds Consumer Products, Inc. and Walmart for allegedly defrauding and deceiving Minnesota consumers through their marketing of so-called “recycling” bags. The attorney general argues that the bags are not recyclable in Minnesota and render unrecyclable all materials placed within them, even items that would otherwise be recyclable.
- New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a settlement with Bobby’s Towing and its owner, Robert Scores, resolving allegations that the defendants illegally tow cars, overcharge for towing fees, falsify tow tickets, and harm consumers. According to the settlement, the defendants are required to pay restitution to affected consumers. Scores is also banned from the towing business, unless he pays a $100,000 bond and $20,000 to the state in penalties.
- New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report detailing the work of the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) Health Care Bureau’s Helpline, a free service that handled more than 2,300 consumer complaints and recovered more than $1.5 million in restitution and savings for New Yorkers in 2022. The Helpline is also available to provide information to New Yorkers and ensure they can access medically necessary care or prescription medication unfairly denied to them. In 2022, Helpline staff handled 2,309 consumer complaints and provided another 1,722 consumers with information or referred them to an appropriate agency for assistance. Complaints addressed through the helpline include: (1) consumers receiving unexpected bills for office visits related to COVID-19; (2) consumers experiencing illegal billing practices; and (3) consumers receiving bills for in-network services at a hospital that were nearly twice as much as the initial written estimate.
- Ohio Attorney General Yost announced a final judgment resolving the state’s lawsuit against Neil Construction and owner Neil Wolfe. Neil Construction violated Ohio’s consumer protection laws 71 times and will pay over $600,000 in restitution to 19 defrauded consumers as well as almost $2,000,000 in civil penalties. Neil Construction received down payments from customers for home-improvement work that was not performed or never completed. Additionally, Wolfe failed to obtain required permits, register as a contractor and evaded his legal obligations.
- Pennsylvania Attorney General Henry announced an action against a travel agent, Denise Hay, who recently filed for bankruptcy. Attorney General Henry seeks to ensure Hay, who owns and operates Grand View Tours, Inc. and Ocean View Tours & Travel, LLC, is unable to discharge the debt she owes to Pennsylvania consumers who paid for trips that never occurred. Hay accepted over $170,000 from thirty-two consumers for a trip that was cancelled due to COVID-19. Hay kept the payments and did not provide refunds.
- Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry announced a settlement resolving allegations that Aptive Environmental, LLC, a pest control company, violated terms of a prior settlement with the Office of Attorney General (OAG). More specifically, the OAG’s investigation allegedly discovered that some consumers were not afforded the appropriate right to cancel, and that Aptive had failed to obtain necessary permits prior to soliciting door-to-door sales. The consent order requires Aptive to pay the Commonwealth $220,000, which represents $195,000 in civil penalties related to Aptive’s alleged violations of the 2019 settlement agreement, and $25,000 to reimburse the Commonwealth for its investigative and legal costs.
- Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry announced three settlements totaling more than $90,000 against telemarketers that allegedly violated Pennsylvania’s “Do-Not-Call” Law and contacted people on the no-call list. According to the Office of Attorney General’s investigation, American Automotive Alliance, LLC and AM Protection, Inc., along with its owner Mariam Nasrati, marketed auto warranties in the pre-recorded calls. Mammoth Marketing Group, LLC, also engaged in allegedly illegal telemarketing practices related to marketing Medicare benefits to senior citizens. As part of the terms of the settlement agreements all three companies are required to comply with the Pennsylvania Telemarketer Registration Act, including not calling residents with phone numbers on the “Do-Not-Call” List.
- Rhode Island Attorney General Neronha filed a lawsuit against manufactures of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS, for causing significant harm to both the residents and natural resources of Rhode Island via a campaign to deceive the public and continued production of the hazardous products with knowledge of the risks and consequences. Defendants include, but are not limited to, major chemical companies such as 3M and Dupont. The lawsuit alleges violations of state environmental and consumer protection laws.