UKIAH, 3/14/20 — As part of a public health state of emergency, established statewide and locally due to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), price gouging is illegal in California and Mendocino County. The Mendocino County District Attorney sent out a notice today explaining that any rise in price of more than 10% for vital goods is considered price gouging. The baseline for that increase is the price of goods on March 3, the day before the state of emergency was declared, and the law applies to, “among many other things, food, consumer goods, emergency supplies, medical supplies, and gasoline.”
The punishment for price gouging, if convicted, can be up to a year in jail or a fine of $10,000. There may be legitimate reasons for price increases, and these may be evaluated on a case by case basis.
According to the the D.A., “Those wanting to report possible price gouging or coronavirus scams in Mendocino County may timely submit written complaints, along with any documentation, to the DA’s Ukiah office (P.O. Box 1000, Ukiah, CA 95482), Attn: DA Investigators.”
Here is the press release from the Mendocino D.A. with all the details:
CONSUMER ALERT RE PRICE GOUGING AND COVID-19
A statewide public health state of emergency was declared March 4 to allow for prioritization and enhancement of the state’s response to the global COVID-19 outbreak.
Mendocino County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Noemi (Mimi) Doohan on the same day declared a county-wide public health emergency in order for all Mendocino County agencies to also prioritize and enhance localized COVID-19 activity.
A declaration of emergency is a legal document that opens the door to further resources and coordination between local, state and federal agencies; helps speed up emergency planning; and, assists in emergency contracts and staffing.
The above declarations also allows for reimbursement by state and federal governments for local government initiatives that lessen or attempt to lessen the impacts of the public health emergency.
Under California Penal Code § 396, it is illegal to charge a price for goods or services that is more than 10% higher than the price was on March 3, 2020, the day immediately preceding the aforementioned declarations of a public health emergency.
This price-gouging prohibition applies to those who sell, among many other things, food, consumer goods, emergency supplies, medical supplies, and gasoline.
If it is determined that a violator has been involved in price gouging and criminal charges result, that person, if convicted, is subject to penalties of up to one year in the county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Violators are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution.
While there may be legitimate (lawful) reasons for prices to increase during the pendency of the current public health emergency, complaints of price gouging or COVID19 scamming will be investigated, at the discretion of the District Attorney, by the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation Services to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prove that a criminal statute has been violated.
Consumers should be aware that there may be fake websites, emails. texts, and other messages circulating from people claiming to be from the World Health Organization (WHO) or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or anyone claiming to have a coronavirus cure or vaccination. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is false.
Those wanting to report possible price gouging or coronavirus scams in Mendocino County may timely submit written complaints, along with any documentation, to the DA’s Ukiah office (P.O. Box 1000, Ukiah, CA 95482), Attn: DA Investigators.Mendocino District Attorney