State sues egg supplier for price gouging
CHARLESTON — The state of West Virginia is suing an egg supplier for the alleged unlawful increase in the wholesale price of eggs, in some cases by almost 300 percent.
The lawsuit by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey targets Green Valley Poultry Farms and alleges the owner of the company violated West Virginia’s price gouging law by charging grocery stores exorbitantly higher prices amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Morrisey claimed the wholesale price of Green Valley Farms eggs increased between 228 and 297 percent, far exceeding the cap of no greater than 10 percent during a state of emergency or preparedness. The suit requests an immediate court order to ensure the company complies with state law.
“No lawful excuse exists for such an increase,” Morrisey said. “Eggs are a staple for many households. We will always take steps to defend consumers from actions which violate our laws.”
Green Valley Poultry Farms, owned by Dutt & Wagner of Virginia Inc., produces 19.5 million shell eggs per year and ranks as Virginia’s largest producer.
In West Virginia, the lawsuit alleges Dutt & Wagner charged inflated prices to 34 grocery stores and restaurant suppliers – including several recognizable chains – in Cabell, Fayette, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Mason, McDowell, Mercer, Nicholas, Ohio, Raleigh and Upshur counties.
The lawsuit alleges Dutt & Wagner increased the wholesale price of a dozen Green Valley Farms medium eggs from 79 cents on Feb. 24 to $2.35 on March 30, 297.5 percent.
The lawsuit cites a U.S. Department of Agriculture report stating there is no evidence of an egg supply shortage.
Also at issue is the Dutt & Wagner’s reliance upon a business publisher in setting prices. Morrisey said the publisher’s reporting does not exempt Dutt & Wagner from West Virginia’s price-gouging statute.
The civil complaint was filed Tuesday in Greenbrier County Circuit Court. It sets forth charges of unfair price practices and violating the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act.
Morrisey is seeking a court order forcing Dutt & Wagner to pay restitution to consumers who paid above the authorized price, a civil penalty of $5,000 for each violation of the price gouging statute and an injunction prohibiting similar conduct.
The Consumer Protection Division of the office of attorney general is pursuing inquiries related to the pandemic. More than 60 complaints have been referred to investigators and dozens of subpoenas and letters have been sent to businesses whose conduct may have violated the state’s price gouging law or landlords whose eviction threats may have underplayed the need for a court order.
The Consumer Protection Hotline is 1-800-368-8808 and it remains open to assist with claims of price gouging, pandemic scams or other ways in which bad actors may try to take advantage of consumers during the pandemic. Complaints also can be filed at www.wvago.gov.