TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, the Division of Consumer Affairs and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced today that the State has entered into an overall $867,800 settlement with Illinois-based medical waste disposal company Stericycle. The settlement resolves allegations that Stericycle engaged in a variety of deceptive sales, pricing and other unlawful practices in its dealings with New Jersey dentists.
The State began investigating Stericycle in May 2016 after the New Jersey Dental Association wrote to the Division of Consumer Affairs complaining about the company. Specifically, the Association reported that Stericycle sales agents were pressuring dentists to purchase a Hazardous Drug Disposal Service Black Box Program (HDDS), which they claimed was required for the disposal of certain substances – even trace amounts – by an EPA regulation. No such EPA regulation existed.
DEP’s investigation was prompted by complaints to the Department about Stericycle’s alleged unannounced price increases and unresponsive customer service, among other concerns. Stericycle was also accused of allowing unauthorized individuals to sign contracts on behalf of dentists, and of failing to cancel such contracts when the unauthorized status of the signatory became known.
“We expect businesses operating in New Jersey to act with integrity, to respect New Jersey consumers, and to play by our rules,” said Attorney General Grewal. “That’s the basic promise companies make to their customers, and it’s what our law commands. So when businesses betray the trust of New Jersey consumers, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent, just as we’re doing today.”
“Ensuring fair business practices in waste services is an important part of the DEP's enforcement activity,” said DEP Deputy Commissioner Debbie Mans. “Today's action demonstrates New Jersey's commitment to promoting and enforcing legal compliance in this sector to protect businesses, their customers and New Jersey's environment.”
“Stericycle’s business approach crossed the line from aggressive to deceptive, and that kind of conduct cannot be tolerated,” said Division of Consumer Affairs Director Paul R. Rodríguez. “This case should serve as notice not only to regulated waste disposal operators, but to all businesses operating in our state: We are committed to protecting New Jersey consumers, and if you deceive them, cheat them or otherwise treat them unlawfully, we will take action.”
Under the settlement, Stericycle will pay DEP $500,000, as a majority of allegations resolved by the settlement involve violations of the New Jersey Solid Waste Utility Control Act and DEP’s Customer Bill of Rights. Stericycle will pay the Division of Consumer Affairs $155,000 to resolve allegations of having violated the State’s Consumer Fraud Act and New Jersey Advertising Regulations.
Stericycle will also provide a total of $205,160 in reimbursement to a total of 155 New Jersey dentists affected by its allegedly deceptive practices. Stericycle will reimburse the State a total of $7,800 to cover its investigative and legal costs. The company denies any wrongdoing.
The company is prohibited under the settlement from proactively advertising, offering for sale or selling the HDDS Black Box Program in New Jersey – except with respect to consumers who are required to properly dispose of hazardous drug waste in accordance with applicable state or federal statutes and regulations, such as Small Quantity Generators or P-Waste Generators.
Under other non-monetary terms of the settlement, Stericycle must:
- Properly itemize any bills submitted to its customers.
- Train its customer service representatives on the Customer Bill of Rights, as well as the legal requirement in New Jersey that all solid waste utilities must assist customers in selecting the rate schedule most favorable for their individual requirements.
- Verify that all contracts for the sale of merchandise in New Jersey include a statement by the signatory of the contract -- in large, bold typeface -- verifying that he or she is an authorized representative of the consumer, and is authorized to enter into a binding contract on behalf of the consumer.
- Provide written notice to customers that waste services in New Jersey are available on a competitive basis and shall include with that notice a copy of the Customer Bill of Rights.
- Designate a company representative whom DEP or the Division of Consumer Affairs may contact regarding customer complaints submitted to the agencies.
The Stericycle matter was handled on behalf of New Jersey by Lead Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Koziar, of the Division of Law’s Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section, and Deputy Attorney General Ray Lamboy of the Division of Law’s Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice Section.