CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed suit alleging a North Carolina egg supplier unlawfully drove up the cost of eggs at major grocery stores during the height of coronavirus shutdowns in March and April.
The lawsuit alleges Merchants Distributors LLC increased prices by more than 200 percent for shoppers at Piggly Wiggly, IGA and Walmart stores throughout West Virginia. The price hikes involved Morning Fresh Farms, Better Valu and SunUps brand eggs.
“Price gouging is against the law in West Virginia,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “The coronavirus emergency represents a time when everyone should unite to help one another – not an opportunity for businesses to unlawfully take advantage of those shopping for something as basic as eggs.”
The price hikes affected Walmart shoppers across West Virginia, along with IGA and Piggly Wiggly customers in Boone, Braxton, Cabell, Harrison, Kanawha, Pocahontas, Upshur, Webster and Wood counties.
For instance, the lawsuit alleges that Merchants Distributors raised the price of a dozen Grade A, medium white eggs from approximately $1.18 on Feb. 24 to $4.27 on March 30 – an increase of 262 percent.
Other egg brands and types allegedly experienced price hikes of 170 percent to 256 percent, according to the lawsuit.
Merchants Distributors reportedly blamed increased demand, a drop in supply and the Easter holiday, however, the Attorney General’s investigation found no shortage existed. The lawsuit also states the defendant’s reasons do not exempt its actions from the state’s price gouging law.
The civil complaint, filed Monday in Greenbrier County Circuit Court, sets forth charges of unfair price practices and violations of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act.
The Attorney General seeks a court order forcing Merchants Distributors to pay restitution to consumers who paid above the authorized price and a civil penalty of $5,000 for each violation of the price gouging statute, along with an injunction that prohibits any similar conduct.
The Consumer Protection Division remains actively engaged in pursuing inquiries related to the coronavirus pandemic, and Monday’s filing comes less than a month after the Attorney General filed suit with similar allegations against Dutt & Wagner of Virginia Inc.
More than 60 consumer reports have been referred to investigators and dozens of subpoenas and letters have been sent to businesses whose conduct may have violated the state’s price gouging law or landlords whose eviction threats may have underplayed the need for a court order.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline – 1-800-368-8808 – remains open to assist with claims of price gouging, COVID-19 scams or other ways in which bad actors may try to take advantage of consumers during the pandemic. People may also file complaints at www.wvago.gov.
Read the Merchants Distributors civil complaint at https://bit.ly/2XQFXci.