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The State AG Report Weekly Update May 15, 2015

Antitrust

Kentucky Attorney General Sues Petroleum Company for Anticompetitive Practices

  • Kentucky AG Jack Conway sued Marathon Petroleum for allegedly engaging in anticompetitive practices that led to higher gas prices for Kentucky consumers.
  • The complaint alleges that Marathon violated state and federal antitrust laws by abusing its monopoly position created as a result of the merger with Ashland Oil in 1998.  Specifically, the AG alleges that Marathon used supply agreements to eliminate wholesale competition, entered into agreements with horizontal competitors to keep other suppliers out of Kentucky, and placed deed restrictions on retail property to limit the number of retail gasoline locations in the state and, in some instances, require that only Marathon gasoline be sold.
  • AG Conway’s lawsuit follows several attempts by his office since 2008 to have the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice’s Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group review the merger and its impact on Kentucky.

Employment

New York Attorney General Applauds Governor’s Decision to Convene Minimum Wage Board

  • New York AG Eric Schneiderman issued a statement following Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to direct the New York State Department of Labor to convene a wage board to consider an increase in the minimum wage for fast food workers.
  • Governor Cuomo’s decision followed a New York Daily News op-ed by AG Schneiderman that discussed the Governor’s authority to direct the Commissioner of Labor to convene a wage board “to investigate and make recommendations about wage levels.”
  • AG Schneiderman stated that he hopes “today’s announcement is the first step toward ensuring a living wage for hard working New Yorkers.”

Environment

California Attorney General Settles With Energy Companies for Environmental Law Violations

  • California AG Kamala Harris announced an $11.5 million settlement with Phillips 66 and ConocoPhillips to resolve allegations that the companies violated California’s hazardous materials and hazardous waste laws.
  • AG Harris alleged that the companies violated environmental laws with respect to underground storage tanks by failing to properly maintain leak detection devices, test secondary containment systems, conduct monthly inspections, train employees in proper protocol, and maintain operation alarm systems, among other violations.
  • According to the settlement, which was entered into with AG Harris and district attorneys from seven counties, the companies are enjoined from violating certain provisions of California’s Health and Safety Code, and must pay $9 million in civil penalties, $1 million in restitution and supplemental environmental projects, and $1.5 million in attorneys’ fees and costs.

EPA and New York Attorney General Settle With Chemical Maker

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and New York AG Eric Schneiderman reached an agreement with Tonawanda Coke Corporation to resolve allegations that the company violated the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, the New York State Environmental Conservation Law, and related regulations.
  • According to the Consent Decree, Tonawanda Coke violated environmental laws by, among other things, failing to properly operate and maintain its facility located in Tonawanda, New York, failing to maintain calibration and operating requirements, as well as failing to report certain activities involving toxic chemicals.
  • Under the terms of the settlement, Tonawanda Coke will pay $2.75 million in civil penalties, spend $7.9 million to reduce air pollution and enhance air and water quality, and spend $1.3 million for environmental projects in the area of Tonawanda, New York.

Consumer Protection

FCC and Attorneys General Partner to Settle “Cramming” Allegations

  • The Federal Communications Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and AGs from all fifty states and the District of Columbia settled with Sprint Corporation and Verizon Wireless to resolve allegations that the companies engaged in “cramming,” a practice in which cell-phone providers charge consumers for third-party services, such as horoscopes, trivia, and sports scores, that consumers allegedly never requested.
  • Under the terms of the settlements, Sprint and Verizon will pay $68 million and $90 million, respectively, of which $50 million and $70 million, respectively, will be paid to consumers as restitution.
  • In addition to monetary payments, the companies must take steps to ensure that they only bill for third-party charges that have been approved by consumers, including, among other requirements, obtaining consumers’ express consent before billing for third-party charges, providing consumers with the option to obtain a full refund or credit when billed for unauthorized charges, and notifying new consumers that their mobile phones can be used to pay for third-party charges and how they can block access to third-party products.

Colorado Attorney General Sues Stores for Predatory Business Practices

  • Colorado AG Cynthia Coffman sued Freedom Stores Inc., d/b/a Freedom Furniture & Electronics; Military Credit Services, LLC; and Freedom Acceptance Corporation for allegedly violating Colorado lending and consumer protection laws.
  • The complaint alleges that the companies engaged in a variety of conduct targeted at military members and their families including, among other things, charging interest rates above those permitted by Colorado law, charging fees that are not permitted by Colorado law, using improper collection practices, and unlawfully suing service members in Virginia courts instead of in Colorado.
  • The suit seeks the refund of all loan finance charges and excess fees and maximum fines and civil penalties for each violation.

Missouri Attorney General Obtains Judgment With Mortgage Servicer

  • Missouri AG Chris Koster announced a judgment against Mader Law Group, LLC, and its owner Eric Mader for violating Missouri consumer protection laws and other statutes.
  • The judgment resolves allegations that the law firm misled consumers into paying for legal assistance with mortgage modifications when the firm had no greater ability to obtain modifications than homeowners, illegally charged consumers upfront fees, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, and failed to notify consumers that they had the right to cancel the contract within three business days.
  • Under the terms of the judgment, Mader and his company must pay $273,000 in civil penalties and $83,737 in restitution to Missouri consumers who paid for mortgage-modification services they did not receive.  Mader is also permanently enjoined from providing mortgage or debt modification services in Missouri.