Welcome to Squire Patton Boggs’ weekly State Attorneys General blog, drafted by the firm’s State Attorneys General Practice Group. As explained in detail here (http://www.squirepattonboggs.com/services/public-policy/state-attorneys-general-practice), the group is comprised of lawyers who have served at senior levels in State AG offices around the country and whose practices focus, to one degree or another, on representing clients with business before these increasingly assertive and powerful, yet often, overlooked government agencies.
State AGs play several roles. Perhaps their best known role is as criminal prosecutors or civil litigants against those accused of violating criminal or civil law in their respective states. They also conduct investigations, either as the precursor to or basis for such prosecutions or litigation, or as an end in themselves to, for example, make a political point or advance a particular policy or ideological agenda. They also make political points or advance policy or ideological agendas in a variety of other ways like filing lawsuits or amicus curiae briefs; holding press conferences, issuing press releases, making speeches, or penning op-Ed’s; or lobbying state or the federal officials directly for changes in law or policy. Finally, they regulate a wide variety of industries from health care to transportation to energy to education to charitable organizations in their respective states.
In this space, we will call attention to what we consider to be the most noteworthy news or developments that week, placing those items in one or another of these categories for ease of analysis.
Arkansas is among 33 states and the District of Columbia that reached a settlement with automakers, Hyundai and Kia, to resolve allegations that the companies misrepresented the mileage and fuel economy standards on several of their 2011, 2012, and 2013 models, http://arkansasag.gov/news-and-consumer-alerts/details/rutledge-part-of-41.2-million-settlement-with-hyundai-and-kia.
New York AG Eric Schneiderman announced a $12 million settlement against online gaming companies, DraftKings and Fan Duel, of lawsuits alleging false and deceptive advertising practices. According to the AG, the settlement imposes the highest penalty awards for deceptive advertising in the state “in recent memory.” The settlement imposes a number of conditions on the companies, including their each maintaining a web page that provides information about the rate of success of contestants, http://ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-12-million-settlement-draftkings-and-fan duel.
New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino announced charges this week against a contractor that allegedly defrauded homeowners who paid to have their houses repaired after Hurricane Sandy, http://legalnews.com/stories/511018593-new-jersey-attorney-general-targets-contractor-that-allegedly-defrauded-sandy-victims.
Subsidiaries of AAC (American Addiction Centers) Holdings settled criminal charges brought by California Attorney General (and US Senate candidate) Kamala Harris. Part of the settlement was the company’s agreement to certain oversight mechanisms for three years, including an outside monitor to ensure compliance, http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/2016024005459/en/AAC-Holdings-Announces-Resolution-California’s-Attorney-General.
With the economic recovery continuing apace and, at least until this past week with the latest revelations in the ongoing email controversy, the near certainty of a President Hillary Clinton come January, 2016 has been on track to end with a bang as to mergers and acquisitions. Especially noteworthy, of course, is the proposed acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T.
In recent years, State AGs, either on their own, or in concert with their counterparts in other states and/or the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, have been increasingly active in attempting to block mergers that they view as potentially harmful to consumers in their respective states. The proposed merger last year of US Foods, the nation’s number two food distributor, with Sysco, the industry leader, ran aground in part because of the opposition of certain State AGs working in concert with federal regulators, http://journalstar.com/business/agriculture/nebraska-ag-allied-with-ftc-to-stop-sysco-us-foods/article_869346d3-Occc-5fe4b35c-6f0517589034.html.
Certain prospective combinations, like the Sysco-US Foods one, have an impact on consumers and, thus, are of keen interest to State AGs because all or nearly all of their constituents are directly affected, while others (like, for example, GE’s proposed acquisition of Baker Hughes) have little to no discernible impact on most constituents. Needless to say, in this era of 24/7 digital connectedness, the prospective combination of AT&T and Time Warner falls into the former category. Look for any number of State AGs to weigh in against the merger on the grounds that it would disadvantage consumers in their states. (See, for example, a potential harbinger of things to come in at least one state, http://www.southcarolinaradionetwork.com/2016/10/25/atts-plan-buy-time-warner-criticized-amid-fears-will-hurt-many-sc.) A number of State AGs worked in concert with federal regulators and various advocacy groups to block Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable two years ago, http://www.speedmatters.org/blog/archive/multistate-ag-taskforce-looking-at-comcast-time-warner-merger. The role that State AGs can play in scuttling certain proposed combinations underscores the degree to which State AGs are major players, not only in their own states, but on the national stage as well, in regulating industries.
Ohio’s Mike DeWine warned baseball fans of ticket scams in the midst of the World Series, http://www.dailyprogress.com/ohio-attorney-general-warns-of-world-series-ticket-scams/article_f133dc16-4f65-5ed4-a3fb-7134fcacfb32.html.
New York AG Eric Schneiderman, the archetypal activist AG on the left and an advocate of gun reform, issued a study this week concluding that approximately 75% of guns connected to crimes in New York State and recovered by its authorities originated out of state. Http://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/eric-schneiderman-ny-gun-laws-undermined-by-other-states-1.12503533. The fact that there can be a high rate of gun-related crimes in states with the toughest gun laws is often used by Second Amendment enthusiasts to argue against gun reform.
Drug addiction has re-emerged as an issue of nationwide concern in recent years, with, in sharp contrast to attitudes in the 90s, a developing bipartisan consensus that it is more of an issue for the public health system than the nation’s criminal justice system. Underscoring the point, in their final face off before the election, both major party candidates for Attorney General in Vermont identified the opiate epidemic to be a top priority, http://www.miltonindependent.com/attorney-general-candidates-make-opiate-fight-a-priority/. See also Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s call for a grassroots effort to combat heroin, http://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/news/local/dewine-calls-for-grassroots-effort-to-combat-heroi/nsxc7/, and the bipartisan conference convened by DeWine and the Attorneys General of West Virginia, Pat Morrissey, and Kentucky, Andy Beshear, on substance abuse, http://wvrecord.com/stories/511036406-morrisey-joins-ohio-kentucky-attorneys-general-for-substance-abuse-conference. DeWine and Morissey are Republicans; Beshear is a Democrat.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy, who has joined with New York’s Schneiderman this year in an attempt to use their subpoena power and federal securities laws to investigate ExxonMobil for allegedly denying the science of climate change to minimize its impact over time on the company’s share price, this week announced that she is heading an advisory council in the state designed to promote racial justice and equity, http://www.massive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/10/maura_healey_begins_advocacy_c.html. The move comes against the backdrop of continued racial unrest in the country on account of the spate of police shootings of unarmed African Americans and a presidential campaign marked by racial tensions.
New York’s Schneiderman proposed state legislation this week that would prohibit companies from asking low-wage workers to sign non-compete clauses, http://wibx950.com/schneiderman-ny-can-fight-misuse-of-non-compete-agreements/.
Underscoring the major role State AGs play nowadays in cyber security-related matters, California’s Kamala Harris is asking the public to help locate companies that violate the state’s online privacy act, http://legalnewsline.com/stories/511034437-california-attorney-general-seeks-help-in-locating-violators-of.