Pa. AG Hits Amazon Seller With Sanitizer Price-Gouging Suit

By Matt Fair
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Law360 (August 21, 2020, 3:14 PM EDT) -- Pennsylvania's attorney general is seeking $1 million in penalties against a Philadelphia-based company accused of illegally jacking up the price of hand sanitizer it sold on Amazon.com as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March.

Attorney General Josh Shaprio said Thursday that M&B Multiservices Inc. sold eight-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer at the beginning of March for as much as $75 apiece, in violation of state statutory provisions limiting price increases during a state of emergency.

"It's illegal to rip off Pennsylvanians during a pandemic and we're holding price gougers accountable," Shapiro said. "During a time when millions are out of work and millions more are struggling to pay for food and medicine, playing off people's fears to rip them off is wrong, and illegal."

According to a complaint filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, M&B sold 83 bottles of Purell-branded hand sanitizer at the beginning of March — after Gov. Tom Wolf declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic — priced between $65.80 and $75.80 apiece.

Under the state's Price Gouging Act, however, retailers are forbidden from selling goods at prices in excess of 20% of the average price at which the goods were available in the seven days prior to an emergency declaration.

The complaint said M&B had previously sold hand sanitizer for an average sale price of $8.30 per eight-ounce bottle.

According to court records, the attorney general's office sent M&B a cease-and-desist letter at the end of March, and also asked the company to hand over documents and other materials related to its sanitizer sales.

The complaint said the company failed to adequately respond.

Instead, the complaint said, the company's owner sent a brief email stating he had purchased the hand sanitizer at an inflated cost and was not aware he had done anything wrong.

"I basically bought the Purell at an expensive price," he said. "At the time it was not a state of emergency, everything was normal and I did not know that I couldn't buy at a price and sell at a higher price."

He said he stopped selling the hand sanitizer after hearing complaints about the high prices and that he issued refunds to buyers who complained.

M&B's owner did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Pennsylvania is represented by Nicholas Smyth of the office of attorney general.

Counsel information for M&B was not immediately available Friday.

The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. M&B Services Inc., case number 200801718, before the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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