Business

SLO County DA reaches $9k settlement with Walmart for price gouging during pandemic

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SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY, Calif. – San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow announced a settlement was reached with Walmart Corporation for the unfair practice of price gouging during last year’s pandemic emergency.

Dow said Walmart agreed to pay $9,000 for violating the Business and Professions Code when selling disinfecting wipes at an exorbitant profit to SLO County residents during May and June 2020.

On April 3, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order which ordered in part the prohibition of selling medical or emergency supplies that a retailer had not previously sold prior to Feb. 4, 2020, for “an unconscionably excessive price.” The order defined an “unconscionably excessive price” as being a price that is more than 50% greater than the amount the business paid for the item.

The DA’s Office said this executive order held that each instance of a sale or even an offer to sell at a high price would constitute a separate violation of the order.

After receiving complaints of price gouging by local and online retailers, the District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit investigated and discovered that Walmart had advertised and sold packs of sanitizing wipes eight times to six separate SLO County households at a price higher than the 50% markup allowed by the executive order. The DA’s Office said the wipes were sold between $18.99 and $19.99.

The DA’s Office then contacted Walmart, which removed the item from its online store and offered a 100% refund to not only the buyers in SLO County but also throughout California.

On Friday, July 9, 2021, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Ginger E. Garrett approved the settlement stipulation and issued an order that Walmart must pay a civil penalty of $1,500 for the sales of those goods at an excessive price. Walmart was also ordered to pay $7,500 for the plaintiff’s investigatory and litigation costs for a total amount paid of $9,000.

“Protecting consumers in San Luis Obispo County increases the public’s trust in local business and fosters a level playing field for businesses in our community and beyond,” said District Attorney Dow. “This important settlement sends a strong message that we are looking out for everyone who lives in our community.”

This case was investigated by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Bureau of Investigation and prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Kenneth Jorgensen assigned to the District Attorney’s Consumer and Enviornmental Prosecution Unit.

To report a consumer complaint directly to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, click here.

For more information about the consumer protection laws or to report suspected violations, contact the California Department of Consumer Affairs Consumer Assistance Line toll-free at 800-952-5210 or visit their website at www.dca.ca.gov. Hearing-impaired persons may call 800-326-229.

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