SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley today announced misdemeanor price gouging charges against Apna Bazar, a grocery store in Pleasanton, California, and its owner, Rajvinder Singh. California law prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. On March 4, 2020, the Governor declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which put our state’s price gouging law into effect. Today’s complaint alleges that following the emergency declaration, Mr. Singh illegally raised the prices of essential food items over the 10 percent threshold.
“We take price gouging seriously and are committed to going after those who break the law during the public health emergency,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The Department of Justice relies on all Californians to be vigilant in detecting price gouging. If you see something suspicious, or if you are a victim of price gouging, file a complaint with our office at oag.ca.gov/report. The more you report, the more we can stop this abuse.”
“The law prevents businesses from profiteering when we are in a state of emergency. All businesses throughout Alameda County must be on notice that we will not sit idly by and allow consumers to fall prey to price gouging. My office will ensure that businesses adhere to the law and do not exploit consumers,” said District Attorney O’Malley.
Following consumer complaints, a joint investigation between the California Department of Justice and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office revealed that Mr. Singh had allegedly increased the prices of grocery items following the Governor’s emergency declaration. Based on evidence provided by customer receipts, the investigation confirmed pricing on several food items exceeded the 10 percent increase allowed during a state of emergency, with some prices being as much as 200 percent more than what was previously charged. The food items listed in the complaint include yellow onions, ginger, green beans, instant noodles, tea, chili peppers, pomegranates and red yams.
Penal Code section 396, subsection (b), provides that during a state of emergency, and for 30 days following the declaration, price increases on goods and services may not exceed 10 percent. It is only lawful to go above the 10 percent cap if the excess amount is directly attributable to costs incurred to offer the good or service. Violation of this section is punishable as a misdemeanor, including imprisonment in county jail for not more than one year and/or a fine of not more than $10,000. This offense has a one-year statute of limitations from the date of occurrence. In addition to Penal Code Section 396, the Governor has signed Executive Order N-44-20, which extends Penal Code 396's protections until September 4, 2020, and puts additional price gouging protections into place beginning on April 4, 2020. The Governor’s Order generally prohibits increasing the price of food items, consumer goods, and medical and emergency supplies, by more than 10 percent of what a seller charged for that item on February 4, 2020. If the seller did not offer the item for sale on February 4, 2020, the seller may not sell the item at a price that is 50 percent greater than what they paid for it, or, if the seller produced the item, they may not sell it for a price that is 50 percent greater than the cost to produce and sell the item.
If you have been the victim of price gouging, or have information regarding potential price gouging, you can file a complaint at oag.ca.gov/report.
A copy of the joint complaint is available here.