Each week, Crowell & Moring’s State Attorneys General team highlights significant actions that State AGs have taken. Here are this week’s updates.
Monday, April 26, 2021:
- New Jersey Attorney General Grewal announced that Shamrock Beef and Ale, which was charged with violating COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants, has agreed to have its license suspended for the summer under a settlement with the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
- A coalition of 40 attorneys general led by Illinois Attorney General Raoul and Tennessee Attorney General Slatery is asking Congress to pass the EAGLES Act of 2021, which would expand the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center to include research-based threat assessment training that would prevent targeted school violence.
Elder Fraud & Abuse
- Michigan Attorney General Nessel announced The Sentinel Project, which will protect individuals in nursing facilities through unannounced site investigations by specially trained staff.
- Florida Attorney General Moody announced that the Florida legislature has passed senior protection legislation that would expand the jurisdiction of the attorney general’s office to cover crimes against elderly individuals and disabled adults. Among other things, the legislation also criminalizes the intentional isolation of these individuals from family members and expands the availability and length of injunctive relief.
- A coalition of 21 attorneys general, Denver, and Chicago, led by New York Attorney General James, sent a letter to Congress asking it to invalidate a Trump administration Environmental Protection Agency regulation, the methane “Rescission Rule,” which eliminates emissions limits.
- Washington D.C. Attorney General Racine announced that his office filed a lawsuit against fitness training company Oji Fit World for allegedly filing false Medicaid claims for fitness services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The lawsuit seeks damages, civil penalties, and litigation costs.
- Missouri Attorney General Schmitt announced that the owner of Old Town Pharmacy LLC and a pharmacy technician have been indicted for Medicaid fraud, after allegedly knowingly making false statements to MO HealthNet and forging prescriptions.
Tuesday, April 27, 2021:
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) officially delayed the mandatory compliance date of the General Qualified Mortgage final rule from July 1, 2021 until October 1, 2022. The CFPB believes that delaying the compliance date will allow more options and flexibility for lenders and borrowers.
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) initiated an enforcement action through a consent order against Nationwide Equities Corporation for allegedly sending deceptive loan advertisements to older borrowers, misleading them about reverse mortgages. Under the consent order the company must cease this conduct, pay a civil penalty, and implement a compliance plan to review advertisements.
- Massachusetts Attorney General Healey announced that her office secured $89,000 in payments to students through a settlement with online for-profit school Flatiron School LLC, which offers coding bootcamps. The settlement resolves allegations that the school used high pressure enrollment methods and failed to provide sufficient disclosures about its bootcamp program.
- Ohio Attorney General Yost announced that his office received over $250,000 in fines from contractor Miller Builders of Ohio for using foreign steel instead of American steel for eight state-funded Department of Transportation projects.
- Illinois Attorney General Raoul applauded the Illinois legislature’s passage of his legislation that would protect student loan borrowers from student loan debt relief companies that charge high fees for services they actually cannot provide, such as loan forgiveness and cancellation. Among other things, the new legislation streamlines regulation and prosecution of these scams by allowing the Attorney General’s Office and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to address them on a systemic basis.
- On April 26, 2021, U.S. District Judge John Tharp Jr. of the Northern District of Illinois rescinded his decision granting class certification and partial summary judgment to Illinois consumers who argued that they received misleading debt collection notices from RGS Financial Inc. The decision finds that new Seventh Circuit rulings have made it clear that confusion is not enough for a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act claim, and consumers must instead show that information actually influenced their actions and led to injury.
- Congressional Democrats have produced a bill that would restore the Federal Trade Commission’s power to seek restitution and profit disgorgement by adding these forms of relief to the Federal Trade Commission Act.
- California Attorney General Bonta announced a $300 million settlement against Indivior plc and Indivior Inc., which resolves claims that they deceptively marketed Suboxone, causing improper use of state Medicaid funds. The settlement will be paid to all 50 states as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico.
- Missouri Attorney General Schmitt led a coalition of 22 attorneys general in a letter opposing the use of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s “Social Cost of Carbon” analysis in certification decisions for interstate natural gas pipeline construction. The coalition is arguing that the Natural Gas Act and the National Environmental Policy Act do not authorize the “Social Cost of Carbon” analysis and that it is speculative.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021:
- Vermont Attorney General Donovan announced a settlement with Strategic IT Partner after receiving reports of scam robocalls to the Vermont Consumer Assistance Program. Under the settlement, the company, which previously routed foreign robocalls, must stop bringing robocalls into the United States from abroad unless it verifies they are legitimate first. The settlement also includes a partially suspended $67,000 payment. In the same press release, Attorney General Donovan also announced the creation of a Robocall Team to assist in combatting scam calls.
- Massachusetts Attorney General Healey announced a consent judgment with construction material supply company Aggregate Industries – Northeast Region, Inc., settling allegations that the company violated the Massachusetts Clean Air Act by installing unauthorized equipment to produce crumb rubber asphalt pavement and then failing to properly maintain the equipment, causing harmful emissions and odors. Under the consent judgment the company must pay $1.45 million in penalties, which is partially suspended, as well as comply with injunctive relief.
- California Attorney General Bonta announced the expansion of the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Environmental Justice. The expanded Bureau will include 11 attorneys focused on environmental justice in California.
Labor & Employment
- New York Attorney General James announced the convictions of construction company Premier Builders MN LLC and two of its owners for withholding overtime wages from employees and failing to pay unemployment contributions to the New York State Department of Labor Unemployment Insurance fund since 2013. The defendants must pay $580,000 in restitution, $150,000 of which will go to employees.
- Oregon Attorney General Rosenblum announced that the Oregon House of Representatives passed HB 3284, a bill that will protect personal COVID-19 related health data. It applies to any commercial website, private entity, or contact tracing app that collects, uses, or discloses data about people’s COVID-19 exposure or infection, and it prohibits these entities from collecting, using, or disclosing this data without affirmative consent. It also requires the covered entities to provide a way to revoke consent and to refrain from using the collected information for commercial advertising or marketing algorithms. The bill does not apply to entities that are already covered by health information privacy laws.
State AG Office News
- South Carolina Attorney General Wilson announced the creation of the SC Highway Heroes Campaign to combat human trafficking. The Campaign is a collaboration between Attorney General Wilson’s office, the SC Trucking Association, the Office of Highway Safety, the State Transport Police, and the Department of Motor Vehicles. It will offer commercially licensed drivers the opportunity to complete a free online training about stopping human trafficking.
Thursday, April 29, 2021:
- New Jersey Attorney General Grewal announced a settlement with online florist Avas Flowers for allegedly failing to compensate consumers when it delivered flowers that were unlike the arrangements pictured online or were wilted. The settlement requires the company to pay $60,000 and improve its business practices such as by clearly and conspicuously displaying its refund and return policies.
- North Carolina Attorney General Stein announced a $300,000 settlement resolving allegations that Hanora Medical Center of Fayetteville and a doctor submitted false Medicaid claims for autonomic nervous system testing. This enforcement is part of Attorney General Stein’s You’ve Got Nerve effort to take action against providers who are fraudulently billing Medicaid for this type of testing.
- Arizona Attorney General Brnovich announced that his office filed an Arizona Fair Housing Act lawsuit against Brentwood Southern, LLC and Kingsley Management Corporation for allegedly discriminating against individuals with disabilities in housing terms and conditions.
- New York Attorney General James announced an agreement to resolve a state and federal action against cement plant Holcim Inc. for leaking toxic pollutants into Hudson River tributaries. Under the agreement Holcim must pay a $850,000 civil penalty and implement measures to prevent violations in the future.
- West Virginia Attorney General Morrisey led a 19-state coalition in a U.S. Supreme Court petition urging the Court to overturn a District of Columbia Circuit ruling interpreting Section 111 of the Clean Air Act to give the Environmental Protection Agency broad regulatory powers in decarbonization.
State AG Office News
- California Attorney General Bonta announced the creation of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council within the California Department of Justice. The new Council will help ensure the DOJ’s work environment will be a model for helping the voices of all Californians to be heard in the work setting.
- Illinois Attorney General Raoul has notified the public of a ransomware attack compromising the office’s network. The extent of information compromised is still being investigated.
Friday, April 30, 2021:
- Connecticut Attorney General Tong warned consumers whose mortgage loans are serviced by the former Nationstar Mortgage, now known as Mr. Cooper, about unauthorized withdrawals triggered by electronic payment vendor ACI Worldwide’s errors. The announcement states that affected consumers should seek reimbursement from Mr. Cooper online and contact the Connecticut Department of Banking or the Office of the Attorney General if they are unable to resolve their concerns.
- Virginia Attorney General Herring announced a new tool, the “ban the box” hiring policy, to reduce housing discrimination and increase housing stability for those with previous nonviolent convictions, and is encouraging housing providers to adopt it. The policy includes steps such as first considering whether an applicant’s credit and income qualifies them for a rental, then conducting a tailored background screening, and finally allowing an applicant to provide additional information or evidence if an issue arises from the background screening.
- California Attorney General Bonta warned consumers in California about sham health insurance plans that certain healthcare sharing ministries offer. According to the alert, healthcare sharing ministries mislead consumers into enrolling in one of these plans as an affordable alternative to Covered California plans, but then these plans are not obligated to cover preexisting conditions or guarantee coverage for medical services or costs.
- Virginia Attorney General Herring applauded legislation enacted into law that allows local public employees to collectively bargain. In connection with the bill’s passage, Attorney General Herring stated, “Now, local public employees have the ability to be recognized as a labor union, allowing themselves to organize and advocate for the benefits they deserve. . .For too long, Virginia’s worker protection laws have been too weak and I will continue this fight to strengthen protections for the people who keep our communities moving forward.”
- The Florida legislature failed to pass a consumer privacy law when the legislative session ended on April 30, 2021 without legislators reaching an agreement over the law’s private right of action.