State AGs and Consumer Protection: What We Learned from . . . Connecticut Part II
Our State AG webinar series continued with Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and Chief of the Privacy Consumer Protection Section Michele Lucan. In Part I, we discussed Connecticut’s rollout of their new comprehensive privacy law, and in Part II we will discuss how consumer protection operates at the Office of the Attorney General in Connecticut.
Consumer Protection Priorities
As for setting consumer protection priorities, the Connecticut AG relies on its robust and expansive UDAP law (the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (“CUTPA”)). In fact, according to AG Tong, Connecticut has used its act to address issues beyond traditional state consumer protection actions. There is no statute of limitations in Connecticut. He relies on both hard powers, that is, those delegated by statute or common law, and soft powers, such as using enforcement resources to push an actor to do the right thing. Thus, priorities are set any number of ways – and AG Tong provided a wide range of interests and enforcement efforts. Consumer actions may track major policy initiatives like climate change or may address something that “comes through the door” like the recent issue of Kia and Hyundai cars being stolen at a higher rate. AG Tong also referenced a concern with potential fraud in the solar industry. In addition, AG Tong highlighted issues that affect Connecticut youth such as the dangers of social media or harms from vaping. The Office also receives complaints from consumers through its intake team, which helps inform enforcement priorities.
Investigations and Settlements
Like most other states, the Connecticut AG can conduct a confidential pre-suit investigation with CIDs and related requests, and can also engage in pre-suit resolution discussions. But it is not the AG’s general practice to ask for anything and everything they can think of. Rather, the Office tries to keep the requests tailored to what they are investigating. There is no specific time frame for businesses to object to the CID and the Office is happy to engage in informal discussions about time to respond. Businesses should not ignore the CID however, because the Office can file an action to compel compliance.
Injunctive relief is a main component of a pre-suit negotiation as well as a building block to any settlement or Agreement of Voluntary Compliance. The AG may also include a monetary component to any settlement, such as disgorgement or restitution. Connecticut’s penalty authority is $5,000 penalty imposed per willful violation. The AG noted that there is not a statutory definition of “willful violation,” which means the Office could determine that it could be per day, per action, etc. Companies that settle may be subject to ongoing reporting requirements and if there are further violations, the company could be subject to the higher penalty of $25,000 per willful violation.
Some takeaways from CT that we have heard from many AGs and staff: AGs across the country and across the aisle are looking to use their UDAP laws creatively, but they strive to be reasonable in exercising their powers.
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Be sure to join us for our next State AG webinar. Click here for more information. And be on the lookout for our Nebraska Attorney General’s Office blogpost which is just around the bend.