Attorney General Kathy Jennings on Monday announced multiple enforcement actions have been taken against individuals and businesses for violating the State of Emergency order.
Jennings said the state Justice Department was acting to protect public health during a time when “unprecedented” restrictions have been put into place across Delaware to limit spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
Some of the enforcement actions to date have included:
• Several individuals have been cited for failure to obey an emergency order, including last week in Newark and elsewhere throughout the state.
• Six businesses have been issued cease and desist orders for operating, at the time, in violation of the orders; one business owner was arrested for repeated non-compliance.
These businesses include three gun stores (Miller’s Gun Center, Inc.; StarQuest Shooters & Survival Supply, Inc.; and First State Firearms and Accessories, LLC) and two tobacco shops (Puffster and Tobacco Store).
A sixth business—a Milford lab services company called The Lab at Seascape—was also issued a cease and desist for charging for COVID-19 tests in violation of the 8th Modification of the Declaration of a State of Emergency.
• The Department of Justice has received more than two dozen formal complaints regarding price gouging and has initiated communication with those businesses. The Consumer Protection Unit today served a subpoena on the Great Valu at Adams Four related to price gouging allegations after the Department’s initial letter went unanswered.
• The Department of State has sent several warning letters to businesses, informing them that they will be shut down if their behavior does not change.
• Officers throughout our State are enforcing the ban on travelers coming to Delaware from out-of-state and not quarantining.
For example, Delaware State Police operated an out-of-state traveler checkpoint on Friday on Naamans Road in Wilmington. Additional checkpoints were conducted throughout the weekend in Sussex County.
Regarding the price gouging complaints, Justice Department spokesperson Mat Marshal said, “We receive complaints against varying people and businesses, but a large portion of the complaints received are about the businesses consumers disproportionately use under the State of Emergency, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and e-commerce websites.”
The Delaware Attorney General defines price gouging as an increase of more than 10% above the usual cost of a good or service unless the increase is attributable to increased supplier costs.
Marshall said complaint details are not made public and cautioned that allegations of price gouging do not constitute proof of that behavior. “Many consumers have contacted our Rapid Response Team with concerns about a range of products, with common examples including hand sanitizer, toilet paper, cleaning products, and some food staples (milk, eggs, meat, etc.).”
Failure to obey an emergency order is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $50 to $500 and up to 6 months in prison per infraction. Additionally, persons or businesses who engage in price gouging activity face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per offense.
The DOJ has publicly issued guidance to law enforcement and the general public on frequent questions about the orders’ practical impact. Those guidance documents are attached and available on the DOJ’s website, and excerpts are highlighted below:
The DOJ also issued answers to frequently asked questions about the State of Emergency’s price gouging ban.Delawareans who wish to report price gouging should contact the DOJ’s Consumer Protection hotline at (800) 220-5424 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.