Digest 10.08.2020: Airline Passengers’ Rights | Fake COVID-19 Cures | Unlicensed Debt Collection Agency Sued


NAAG: Airline Industry Customers Deserve Stronger Consumer Protections

  • The National Association of Attorneys General (“NAAG”) sent a letter to congressional leaders urging Congress to strengthen consumer protections for airline industry customers.
  • The letter, signed by a bipartisan group of 40 AGs, notes that even though the airline industry received nearly $60 billion in federal stimulus funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, consumers continue to experience issues such as airlines failing to issue refunds and provide a reliable way for consumers to promptly redeem vouchers and credits and resolve such problems.
  • The letter urges Congress to link any further financial relief to the airline industry with the enactment of additional consumer protections, including the right to receive full refunds to customers who voluntarily cancel their flight reservations for COVID-19-related reasons, strengthening existing laws regarding timely issuance of refunds, and authorizing state AGs to enforce federal airline consumer protection laws, among other things.

Healthcare Facility Allegedly Peddled Stem-Cell and Ozone Therapies to Latino Community as COVID-19 Cure

  • Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge sued healthcare provider Arkansas Regenerative Medical Center LTD, its medical director, and its chiropractor (collectively “ARMC”) over allegations that ARMC fraudulently marketed therapies for COVID-19 in violation of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
  • The complaint alleges that ARMC fraudulently promoted expensive stem-cell and ozone therapies for treating COVID-19 to the Latino community, which was heavily impacted by the pandemic, and that its marketing falsely claimed that these therapies were “very effective” against COVID-19 and would allow employees to return to work more quickly.
  • The complaint seeks injunctive relief, restitution, civil penalties, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

Tickets Allegedly Not Worth the (Brown) Paper They’re Printed On

  • Washington AG Bob Ferguson sued ticket management company Brown Paper Tickets, LLC for allegedly failing to pay event organizers for held events and to issue refunds to consumers for cancelled events in violation of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act.
  • The complaint alleges that Brown Paper Tickets owes event organizers approximately $6 million for physical events held before COVID shutdowns and virtual events held since the shutdowns began. The complaint further alleges that Brown Paper Tickets owes approximately $760,000 in refunds to consumers nationwide for cancelled events.
  • The complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, civil penalties, restitution, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

Consumer Protection

Indiana Debt Collection Agency Sued for Allegedly Operating Without a License, Engaging in Abusive Practices

  • Indiana AG Curtis Hill sued debt collection agency New Britain Financial, LLC (“NBF”) and its owner Nelson Macwan over allegations that NBF acted as a collector without a license and engaged in deceptive and abusive debt collection practices in violation of Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and Senior Consumer Protection Act.
  • The complaint alleges that the Indiana Secretary of State (the “SOS”) did not renew NBF’s debt collection agency license but NBF nonetheless continued its debt-collection activities, and allegedly engaged in unfair and deceptive practices such as threatening consumers with lawsuits, arrests, garnishments, and liens without having judgments against them. NBF’s license was not renewed because the SOS learned that Macwan was subject to an Illinois injunction that prohibits him from operating as a debt collector in that state.
  • The complaint seeks injunctive relief, the appointment of a receiver over NBF, restitution, civil penalties, and attorneys’ costs.
  • The complaint is part of a nationwide crackdown titled “Operation Corrupt Collector” spearheaded by the Federal Trade Commission. As previously reported, Operation Corrupt Collector includes over 50 enforcement actions by federal and state law enforcement agencies.

False Claims

Physical Therapy Companies Agree to Pay $4 Million to Settle False Claims Allegations

  • New York AG Letitia James and the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement with Williamsburg Physical Therapy, P.C., Euro Physical Therapy, P.C., and the companies’ owners and operators (collectively “the Companies”) to resolve allegations that the Companies falsely billed Medicaid, Medicare, and other federal healthcare benefits programs for physical therapy services in violation of the federal and state False Claims Acts.
  • According to the AG’s office, a qui tam lawsuit brought by whistleblowers alleged that the Companies billed the federal programs for physical therapy services provided by someone other than the licensed therapist identified on the claim, including unlicensed aides, and that the Companies submitted backdated claims for services provided after the authorization for the treatment had expired.
  • Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the Companies will pay $4 million, of which $2.8 million will be paid to the United States and $1.2 million to New York.

 State vs. Federal

Democratic AGs File Amicus Brief in Support of North Carolina’s Clean Water Act Certification Authority

  • Ten Democratic AGs, led by Washington AG Bob Ferguson, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Nos. 20-1655 (L), 20-1671, in support of North Carolina’s position that the district court erred in upholding a FERC order finding that the state had waived its authority under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) to certify that a hydroelectric project meets state water quality standards and other state requirements.
  • The challenged FERC order found that North Carolina waived its CWA authority when it issued its certification after the statute’s one-year deadline. North Carolina argues that the applicant withdrew and resubmitted its request to avoid a finding that the request was incomplete and to allow the application to be completed within the time restriction, which does not result in a CWA waiver.
  • The brief argues that the CWA provides a mechanism for states to protect their water quality by requiring projects to receive Section 401 certification from states into which discharges may flow, that FERC’s waiver determination was contrary to the plain language and the legislative history of the CWA’s waiver provision, and that the case on which FERC relied in its waiver determination is distinguishable from the circumstances in North Carolina’s case.