Each week, Crowell & Moring’s State Attorneys General team highlights significant actions that State AGs have taken. Here are this week’s updates.

Covid-19

  • Colorado Attorney General Weiser announced that he asked the Colorado legislature to invest its American Rescue Act funds into Colorado water projects as well as into prosecuting unemployment insurance fraud.

Education

  • A coalition of 23 attorneys general led by Michigan Attorney General Nessel is asking U.S. Secretary of Education Cardona and Attorney General Garland to reinstate and to expand a 2014 guidance package to help public schools meet their federal obligations to discipline students equitably, particularly in regards to exclusionary discipline. The attorneys general are arguing that students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students are disproportionately subjected to exclusionary discipline, which has been shown to result in negative lifelong impacts.

Environment

  • A coalition of nine attorneys general asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revoke testing methods that have allowed residential wood heaters to comply with emissions standards when, as the coalition is arguing, they should not be able to comply. The coalition is arguing that the tests used reveal an artificially lower level of emissions than the amount of emissions that would result from in-home use.

Social Media

  • Florida Governor DeSantis signed a law, effective July 1, 2021, that will fine social media companies for removing political candidates from their platforms. The fines are up to $250,000 per day for statewide political candidates and $25,000 a day for local candidates. The law also gives the Florida Attorney General more power to prosecute social media companies and allows Florida residents to sue these companies for up to $100,000 for alleged mistreatment.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021:

Antitrust

  • Senators Klobuchar and Lee introduced a U.S. Senate bill, the State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act of 2021, which would allow state attorneys general to maintain antitrust enforcement actions in the district in which they were initially filed instead of allowing actions to be transferred to other districts that may be more favorable to defendants or move less quickly. The bill’s proponents argue that it would lead to more effective and efficient antitrust enforcement.

Civil Rights

  • New York Attorney General James applauded the confirmation of Kristen Clarke to lead the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Clarke is the first Black woman to lead the Division.

Consumer Protection

  • U.S. District Judge Joseph Rodriguez of the District of New Jersey held the principal of debt collection company DRS Financial LLC in contempt for failing to respond to a proposed class action lawsuit which alleged consumer protection violations. The judge found that the principal has not paid a default judgment or complied with court orders.

Elder Fraud & Abuse

  • A coalition of 47 attorneys general is asking Congress to support H.R. 1215, the Fraud and Scam Reduction Act, which is aimed towards combatting scams against senior citizens. The law would create the Senior Scams Prevention Advisory Group, accountable to the Federal Trade Commission, as well as the Office for the Prevention of Fraud Targeting Seniors for monitoring purposes.

Energy

  • Iowa Attorney General Miller filed four lawsuits alleging that contractors conducted illegal excavations in violation of the “Iowa One Call” law, which requires contractors to contact the Iowa One Call center to locate utility lines prior to excavations. The cases all ended with consent decrees requiring a total of $24,500 in civil penalties.

Fraud Schemes

  • California Attorney General Bonta announced that nine defendants involved in a mortgage relief advance fee scam pleaded guilty to counts including theft from an elder, grand theft, and identity theft. The scheme resulted in about $6 million of loss and involved the defendants’ claims that they could prevent the foreclosure of properties.

Healthcare

  • New York Attorney General James announced that her office’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit as well as the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York and Pennsylvania reached a settlement with health care system Upper Allegheny Health System for allegedly using unsterilized and potentially dangerous tools in treatments. The health care system has agreed to pay $2.7 million as part of the settlement.

Law Enforcement

  • Several attorneys general, such as Nevada Attorney General Ford, released statements on the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd about criminal justice and policing reform efforts in the past year.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021:

Education

  • Colorado Attorney General Weiser announced that his office sued student loan servicer Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, the exclusive servicer for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, for allegedly refusing to comply with consumer protection oversight law requiring it to produce certain documents. The lawsuit requests temporary and permanent injunctive relief.

Energy

  • South Carolina Attorney General Wilson announced that South Carolina’s abnormal disruption in the gasoline market expired on May 26, 2021, meaning price increases for gas over the Memorial Day holiday are normal.

Environment

  • New York Attorney General James announced agreements with eight companies involved in the illegal dumping of contaminated construction waste. The agreements include $627,000 in funding to be distributed to improve public park facilities in the Brentwood, Long Island community.

Fraud Schemes

  • North Carolina Attorney General Stein announced that his office reached a $500,000 settlement to resolve allegations against the HEAG Pain Management Center, PA and a doctor involved with the business for submitting false Medicare and Medicaid claims, as part of Attorney General Stein’s Operation You’ve Got Nerve, an operation geared towards combatting fraudulent Medicaid claims for nervous system testing.

Thursday, May 27, 2021:

CFPB

  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) filed a proposed settlement against Driver Loan, LLC and its CEO which would require them to refund around $1 million to consumers in addition to injunctive relief and a civil penalty. The CFPB is alleging that the company and CEO broke the law by misrepresenting the risks associated with their deposits and the annual percentage rate (“APR”) connected to their consumer loans.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) released a report about manufactured housing financing and its potential risks for consumers, using information collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) is urging the Fourth Circuit in an amicus brief not to create a loophole that would permit banks to bind home loan consumers into arbitration agreements. The CFPB is arguing that the Truth In Lending Act’s arbitration restriction should apply to agreements that are related to home-loan contracts.

Fraud Schemes

  • New Jersey Attorney General Grewal announced the sentencing of roofing companies Roof Management, Inc. and A&S Enterprises, Inc. and their owner for fraudulently billing the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission for fictitious expenses. In addition to the sentencing the companies must pay restitution and a $75,000 anti-corruption profiteering penalty.
  • North Carolina Attorney General Stein issued a consumer alert warning consumers about cryptocurrency scams. The alert states that national reports indicate 7,000 people have lost about $80 million to scams over the last six months.

Price Gouging

  • Michigan Attorney General Nessel ordered a BP gas station to cease and desist from engaging in unlawful business practices. The business allegedly engaged in price gouging by selling gas for about $1 more per gallon than sale prices at nearby stations, and then declined to justify the price difference.

Election Protection

  • New York Attorney General James announced a lawsuit against the Rensselaer County Board of Elections and its commissioners for allegedly failing to provide voters with equitable and adequate access to early voting locations, violating New York’s Early Voting law. The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the current locations are arbitrary and capricious and that the court order the Board to select a site that affords voters in Troy adequate and equitable voting access.

Friday, May 28, 2021:

Consumer Protection

  • North Carolina Attorney General Stein announced that his office won a default judgment against lender Alpha Finance Company, which closed in July 2019 and left borrowers with outstanding secured loans. Under the judgment, which affects over $600,000 worth of loans, all consumers’ loans under the Retail Installment Sales Act (“RISA”) are cancelled and the liens will be released. Attorney General Stein sued Alpha Finance, which made personal loans for the purchase of used cars and secured them by placing a lien on the automobiles’ titles, in March 2020 for allegedly violating the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act and RISA.

Environment

  • Oregon Attorney General Rosenblum applauded the Oregon legislature’s passage of HB 2377, The Environmental Accountability Act, which holds parties accountable for environmental contamination at clean-up sites even if the companies have since dissolved by allowing the government to access insurance assets.
  • California Attorney General Bonta filed a motion to intervene in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s lawsuit against scrap metal recycling facility operator S&W Atlas Iron & Metal Company for allegedly endangering environmental justice communities’ health and safety with emissions and projectiles.