AUSTIN, Texas -- Two more Texas fuel retailers are being sued for alleged price gouging during Hurricane Harvey.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed lawsuits against Sun Macro Corp., Mr. Group Inc. and Star Impex Inc., which together operate several Big Willy’s gas stations in Johnson County, Texas. The lawsuit alleges that during the state of emergency declared for Hurricane Harvey, many of the sites raised their prices to $3.99 for regular-grade gasoline, and some of the locations increased the price to $4.99 per gallon. The lawsuit described prices for midgrade and premium that were also “well beyond” the price for regular during this time. It is based on nearly 200 consumer complaints against Big Willy’s sites.
The Texas attorney general also filed suit against Lafayette C-Store LLC, which operates a Tejano Mart gas station in Laredo, Texas. The lawsuit alleges that the store charged $7 to $9.99 per gallon for regular-grade gasoline during the state of emergency. It also accuses Tejano Mart of charging consumers a higher price than was displayed at the pump.
“Price gouging by unscrupulous profiteers is something that no Texan should have been confronted with during a declared disaster like Hurricane Harvey,” Paxton said in a statement. “Price gouging is illegal, unconscionable and completely opposite the spirit of cooperation we saw just about everywhere else in our state before, during and after the hurricane. My office will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute more cases arising from Harvey.”
This is the second round of lawsuits filed by Paxton against fuel retailers for price gouging during Hurricane Harvey’s state of emergency, which was declared on Aug. 23, 2017. In September, the attorney general sued two retailers—Bain Brothers LLC and Encinal Fuel LLC—for price gouging. And in October, the state’s Consumer Protection Division sent violation letters to businesses representing 127 retail fuel locations, asking them to respond to allegations of price gouging.
The Texas Food & Fuel Association and at least one of the retailers accused of gouging have pushed back against the charges, insisting that many operators actually sold below cost during the state of emergency to avoid price-gouging allegations. Also, some consumers may have been confused by price signs displaying “9.99,” which is a common practice among some retailers to communicate they are out of fuel.
According to Texas law, after the governor declares a state of emergency it is illegal to sell necessities such as fuel, drinking water, food and medicine at an “exorbitant or excessive price.” Violators are subject to civil penalties of up to $20,000 for each violation. If the victim is 65 years or older, the penalty rises to $250,000.