Elliston Food Market Settles Over Gouging

Va. AG announces agreement with gasoline retailer
RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia attorney general Bill Mims has announced a settlement with P. P. Raj Inc. dba Elliston Food Market, a gasoline retailer located in the Christiansburg-area of Montgomery County, Va. The settlement relates to allegations that Elliston Food Market violated the Virginia Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act by charging "unconscionable" prices for gasoline after the governor declared a state of emergency on Sept. 10, 2008, pending arrival of Hurricane Ike in the Gulf Coast.

The settlement, technically known as an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, has [image-nocss] been filed with the Circuit Court of the County of Montgomery for approval.

"This settlement is the eighth and final legal action relating to the spike in gasoline prices seen in anticipation of Hurricane Ike last year," Mims said. "I hope these actions send a strong message that Virginia enforces its Anti-Price Gouging Act. We will not tolerate those who take advantage of Virginians by price gouging for gasoline or other necessities following a disaster."

In the complaint filed along with the assurance, the AG alleged that prices Elliston Food Market charged for gasoline on the evening of Friday, September 12, and the morning of Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008, were unconscionable as grossly exceeding the prices the station charged during the 10 days immediately before the declaration. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the following prices the station charged during these periods were unconscionable: Regular ($4.799), midgrade ($4.899) and premium ($4.999). The complaint further alleges that the regular gasoline price of $4.799 represented a 33% increase over the station's September 8 price of $3.599.

The settlement enjoins Elliston Food Market from engaging in any of the practices alleged to violate the Virginia Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act, and the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and requires Elliston Food Market to set aside $150 for consumer restitution.

The settlement requires Elliston Food Market to provide notice to its customers that they may be eligible for restitution by posting signs on its front door and on each individual gas pump. It also requires the company to use its best efforts to identify credit and debit card customers who purchased gasoline at the prices and on the dates noted above and to credit a refund to their credit or debit cards for the appropriate amount of the overcharge.

The settlement further requires Elliston Food Market to pay $1,000 to reimburse the commonwealth for its costs, investigative expenses and attorney's fees in this matter. And the settlement requires Elliston Food Market to make a contribution of $400 to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. This payment is in lieu of a payment of civil penalties.

The Attorney General notes that Elliston Food Market cooperated fully with his office and with the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services and its Office of Product & Industry Standards throughout the investigation of this matter.


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