Community members should report any suspected price gouging to the Siskiyou County District Attorney Consumer Protection hotline at (530) 842-8215 or to the main office at (530) 842-8125, or by email at da@siskiyouda.org.

Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus urged everyone doing business in the county to “take all necessary steps to ensure full compliance with California law” and to stop price gouging during this time of emergency due to COVID-19.

The DA’s office shares responsibility with the California Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission for ensuring a free and fair marketplace in Siskiyou County and in California. As part of that responsibility, Andrus said his office maintains a Consumer Protection function to prosecute criminal and civil violations of California’s consumer protection and unfair business practice laws.

“Among the laws we enforce are California Penal Code section 396 prohibiting price gouging during declared emergencies, and California Business and Professions Code sections 17200 et seq., prohibiting unlawful and unfair business practices,” Andrus said.

“As Siskiyou County’s chief prosecutor and as a concerned member of this community I direct everybody’s attention to these California laws and the principles of good individual and corporate citizenship that are of the highest importance during the present declared state of emergency arising from the national COVID-19 pandemic.”

During this public health crisis, Andrus called on all Siskiyou County and California businesses, including manufacturers, wholesalers, suppliers and retailers, to “act responsibly as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic.”

All businesses in the supply chain for medicine, equipment and products critically needed during this health emergency share a legal and moral responsibility to refrain from unjustified or extreme price increases for these vital items, Andrus said. These would include hand sanitizer, toilet paper, paper towels, face masks, food items and other popular and necessary items. In addition to the formal legal obligations, the principles of good individual and corporate citizenship and commitment to our community call for responsible conduct in the pricing and distribution of these essential items.

“The principles of California law are strongly implicated here,” Andrus said. For example, California Penal Code section 396 states, in relevant part:

“Upon the proclamation of a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States, or the Governor, or upon the declaration of a local emergency by an official, board, or other governing body vested with authority to make that declaration in any county, city, or city and county, and for a period of 30 days following that proclamation or declaration, it is unlawful for a person, contractor, business, or other entity to sell or offer to sell, any consumer food items or goods, goods or services used for emergency cleanup, emergency supplies, medical supplies, home heating oil, building materials, housing, transportation, freight, and storage services, or gasoline or other motor fuels for a price of more than 10 percent greater than the price charged by that person for those goods or services immediately prior to the proclamation or declaration of emergency.”

The only exception to the prohibition of a price increase over 10% is if the seller can demonstrate that the increase is directly attributable to increases in the cost of labor or materials needed to provide the good or service, Andrus explained. Violation of this Penal Code section is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not to exceed one year and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

“Violation of this Penal Code section also constitutes an unlawful business practice and an act of unfair competition within the meaning of California’s Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code section 17200 et seq. Remedies for violations of section 17200 include injunctive relief, civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation, and consumer restitution,” Andrus added.

The Unfair Competition Law itself directly addresses the obligations of California businesses to avoid any “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice.” Under this statute, “an ‘unfair’ business practice occurs when [the practice] offends an established public policy or when the practice is immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous or substantially injurious to consumers.” Whether at wholesale or retail, charging exorbitant or greatly inflated prices for essential medical supplies during a declared public health emergency is plainly immoral, unethical and substantially injurious to California consumers and the public at large, Andrus said.

Community members should report any suspected price gouging to the Siskiyou County District Attorney Consumer Protection hotline at (530) 842-8215 or to the main office at (530) 842-8125, or by email at da@siskiyouda.org.

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