November 14, 2012
THE CONSEQUENCES OF PRICE GOUGING
GOVERNOR’S EXECUTIVE ORDER 110 EXTENDED
PLEASE READ THIS ENTIRE MESSAGE!
With the immediate crisis of Hurricane Sandy behind us, and electrical/motor-fuel supply issues greatly improved, our fellow New Jersey residents and business owners are picking up the pieces in hopes of regaining a sense of normalcy.
Yet even as we pause to catch our breath, Trenton is continuing to sprint ahead. That’s because even as the recovery efforts continue, officials are handing out citations to many entrepreneurs for violating New Jersey’s price gouging laws.
I have made repeated, exhaustive attempts to inform and educate our members (and many non-members as well) on the consequences of violating New Jersey’s price gouging laws. I’ve done it in plain language, and I’ve even cited the actual legal provisions to better inform you. In fact, NJGCA has communicated such warnings and/or cite the relevant statutes on past occasions. You can review and (re)read those previous warnings below:
Events & Announcements: August 31, 2011
Road Warrior: September 2, 2011
Wildfire Alert: July 2, 2012
Road Warrior: September 28, 2012
Road Warrior: October 26, 2012
Wildfire Alert: October 28, 2012
Road Warrior: November 2, 2012
Wildfire Alert: November 7, 2012
Wildfire Alert: November 12, 2012
That’s a pretty exhaustive list, isn’t it? Yet despite my most fervent efforts, the state Division of Consumer Affairs has received 1,600 complaints against gasoline retailers for price gouging. What’s more, our own phones have been ringing off the hook as motorists contact our offices to complain about station owners gouging the public. Putting aside the fact that NOT ALL of New Jersey’s 2,400 station operators are NJGCA Members (but I’m working on that), the public is obviously emotional and stressed over the crisis that has continued these past two weeks.
I’m just about positive that only a handful of the 1,600 are true examples of gouging and the rest will be investigated and dismissed. After all you do know (or should know) how the mechanics of the price gouging statute works and how to comply with its mandate. An emotional public, however, may see fault where none actually exists. I expect less than 20 gas stations will actually be charged with price gouging once the Attorney General completes all investigations.
HOWEVER, if a complaint was made, then you will receive a subpoena. Subpoenas are arriving quickly as the Attorney General is responding to public and media pressure. If the subpoena is unwarranted as I suspect most are, then your records will prove you innocent and charges will not be filed.
If you did not receive a subpoena from the Attorney General’s Office, it doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear, and it is possible that you could receive one at a later date. In fact, if you’ve received a subpoena or not, you should be extra careful to keep any Sandy-relevant documents, records, and related materials handy.
I will help any member defending themselves from a baseless allegation. While the statutes are pretty clear, we will even help you find legal counsel if need be. Until that becomes necessary, however, I’m asking any dealer that has received a subpoena to engage in self-help! In order to do that effectively, you have some homework to do.
Please CLICK HERE to review two forms we’ve created to help us make your case. One form is for Delivery Costs and the other for Posted Prices. Call us here first, then print them out, fill them in, then make an appointment to meet with us at NJGCA headquarters in Springfield. We will instruct you of the support documents that you will need to bring here with you and help guide you through the process, but we need your cooperation.
We have already had 6 members visit us here in the past two days to review their information. We have found that any charges of price gouging should be baseless. A handful more are scheduled to visit later this week.
Since the hurricane departed, I’ve been so confident of member compliance that I’ve made a few bets with reporters looking to write scathing articles. I’ve been bragging to these reporters that none of those found to have legitimately gouged their customers during the Sandy-crisis will be NJGCA members. If I am wrong then I will buy them a steak dinner, and if I am correct then they owe me a steak dinner. Sadly, I may end up losing that bet.
You’ll note that earlier I stated that the majority of the price gouging accusations will ultimately be dismissed – but that does leave a handful that will ultimately be guilty of violating the law. After speaking to a few of them, it is clear that most did not intentionally try to gouge the public, as one member made simple mathematical mistakes. Human error happens, and as along as the station owner made a good faith effort to comply with the spirit of the statute, I will do my best to defend him from too harsh of a penalty, understanding that there will be a penalty.
However, that’s not the whole story. There is a group of owners who we attempted to inform, but our warnings went unheeded. One particular station owner I spoke with said that he never reads our messages, but is now seeking our help to solve a problem he could have easily avoided. Is that fair? What a dope!
I’d like to say that such a lapse in judgment is understandable, but I cannot. When we send you a communication of any kind, we’re not doing it to keep our staff busy or take up your time. Rather, we are sending it because it’s important and informative.
Yes, I can be long winded -- but that doesn’t mean its all hot air and no substance! In order to stay informed and avoid any consequences, you have to read every word of every message – period!
I will repeat this forever….NJGCA and I personally have a zero tolerance policy for those who knowingly break the law. It is too important to me that bad apples don’t give honest NJGCA members a black eye.
As a final thought, please note that the Governor’s Executive Order 110 has been extended from November 14th to November 20th. That means that any station out there still not receiving deliveries, should contact any distributor out there to get a load of gasoline without fear of retribution from your contracted supplier. If you do so, just make sure that you clearly mark your pumps with the proper brand and fuel-grade information so you aren’t cited.
NJGCA Executive Director
If you have any questions, concerns or comments, please contact NJGCA at our Headquarters at 973-376-0066 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org