Attorney General, New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Settle First Price-Gouging Lawsuits Resulting From Superstorm Sandy
NEWARK – Two gas stations will collectively pay $46,000 to resolve allegations that they excessively and unjustifiably raised prices for motor fuel (e.g. price-gouging) during the State of Emergency declared by Governor Chris Christie in response to Superstorm Sandy, under terms of court-approved Final Consent Judgments.
C.S. George & Sons, Inc., which does business as George's Service Center in Clifton, and Shiv Shivam, Inc., which does business as Lukoil in Piscataway, are among the 24 businesses sued late last year by Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and the State Division of Consumer Affairs for alleged price-gouging. C.S. George & Sons allegedly raised the price of regular gasoline by 34 percent, immediately following the declared State of Emergency. Shiv Shivam allegedly raised its price for regular gasoline by 17.5 percent.
"Through Governor Christie's leadership, we acted swiftly and decisively to investigate consumer complaints about alleged price-gouging and to file lawsuits, where warranted, in order to protect New Jersey residents from such unlawful practices," Attorney General Chiesa said. "These two settlements are the first of what I expect to be a series of resolutions to the price-gouging lawsuits that we have filed to date."
New Jersey's price-gouging law prohibits excessive price increases during a declared State of Emergency and for 30 days thereafter. Excessive price increases are defined as those more than 10 percent higher than the price at which merchandise was sold during the normal course of business prior to the State of Emergency. If a merchant faces additional costs during the emergency, prices may not exceed 10 percent above the normal markup from those costs.
The Division of Consumer Affairs received more than 50 consumer complaints about George's Service Center, which is located at 387 Crooks Avenue in Clifton, and it agreed to pay $26,000. The Division received 16 consumer complaints about the Lukoil station, which is located at 152 Old New Brunswick Road in Piscataway, and it agreed to pay $20,000.
Under the terms of the settlements, both gas stations also agreed to comply with the State's Consumer Fraud Act going forward including by, among other things, not advertising, offering for sale and/or selling motor fuel at excessive prices following a declared State of Emergency. Further, any future violation of the Consumer Fraud Act might subject the stations to enhanced civil penalties. The settlements announced today include civil penalties and reimbursement of the State's attorneys' fees and investigative costs.
Deputy Attorney General Glenn T. Graham in the Division of Law represented the State in the C.S. George & Sons case and Investigator Cullen Church in the Office of Consumer Protection conducted the investigation. Deputy Attorneys General Lorena Salzmann and Lindsay Puteska in the Division of Law represented the State in the Shiv Shivam case and OCP Investigator Joseph Rothstein conducted the investigation.
More than 2,000 consumer complaints about price-gouging were filed in the period immediately following landfall by Superstorm Sandy.
"We're continuing our work to protect state residents in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Our investigators are out in storm-damaged areas, seeking out unregistered contractors who are working illegally and who may be planning to defraud homeowners whose dwellings need repairs, and we are actively working to ensure that Sandy-related charities are operating in accordance with our laws and regulations," said Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its
website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
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