There has been a nationwide shortage of infant formula following a recall and temporary closure of a major infant formula manufacturing facility in February 2022. This facility supplied as much as 40% of the nation's infant formula. In the wake of these events, state attorneys general are on the lookout for unlawful price gouging of infant formula. Sellers of infant formula should make sure that they do not inadvertently run afoul of state price gouging restrictions.
State price gouging laws prohibit price increases above certain thresholds during a period of emergency. Several state governments have recently issued declarations or proclamations that trigger price increase limitations for infant formula, including in California (CA Exec. Order N-10-22, 6/7/2022), Oregon (OR Exec. Procl., 5/13/2022), Colorado (CO Exec. Order D-2022-021, 5/25/2022), New Jersey (NJ Exec. Order No. 296, 5/17/2022), and Kentucky (KY Exec. Order 2022-321, 6/9/2022). Each of these states has a different price gouging restriction. For instance, infant formula sold in California cannot exceed the February 17, 2022 price by more than 10% except in certain limited circumstances. Other states may have a different price increase threshold or a different benchmark date. Multi-state sellers must take care to comply with the restrictions in each state.
Several states, such as Colorado and Nevada, enacted new price gouging laws in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 6-1-730; NRS § 598.09235. Enforcers have not had much experience enforcing these statutes, which may mean greater uncertainty for sellers in those states.
Most, but not all states have a price gouging law. In states that do not have a price gouging law, attorneys general will often seek to enforce their state's unfair or deceptive trade practices act against reports of price gouging. For example, the attorney general of New Mexico, a state without a price gouging law, issued a press release on May 31, 2022 announcing that he is investigating complaints regarding infant formula price gouging. Similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, the infant formula shortage is triggering a variety of different price gouging restrictions in different states at the same time. Navigating the differences from state-to-state can be challenging, particularly in light of the new laws and amended laws that have been recently enacted. Sellers should review their normal pricing practices and make necessary changes to avoid inadvertently running afoul of the restrictions in a particular state.
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