New York Attorney General Letitia James alleged in a complaint filed on Tuesday that one of the largest egg producers in the United States, Hillandale Farms, has participated in illegal price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The reported price gouging caused prices to rise up to four times the normal price during March and April for over four million cartons of eggs sold to grocery stores and wholesale food distributors throughout New York, according to a press release from the Attorney General. The release cites that Western Beef supermarkets which typically paid between $0.59 and $1.10 for a dozen eggs paid up to $2.93 due to the price gouging. The price gouging from Hillandale allegedly also reached U.S. military facilities, the Military Academy at West Point was charged $3,15 per carton when in January it paid $0.84.
“As this pandemic ravaged our country, Hillandale exploited hardworking New Yorkers to line its own pockets,” said Attorney General James. “In less than two months, Hillandale made millions by cheating our most vulnerable communities and our servicemembers, actions that are both unlawful and truly rotten. I will always stand up for working people, especially when they are taken advantage of by corporate greed.” James said the Attorney General’s office received complaints from consumers and is seeking restitution for them through this lawsuit.
The Attorney General claimed the increase in price is not due to an increase in the cost to produce the eggs, but “simply to take advantage of higher consumer demand during the pandemic,” the press release said. The lawsuit alleges the Urner Barry price index used by egg producers created a feedback loop and the producers themselves created the increased price. An Urner Barry director, however, justified the price claiming that the prices went up because the demand for eggs rose significantly.
The lawsuit, which will be handled by Assistant Attorney John P. Figura, was filed against six Hillandale Farms companies: Hillandale Farms Corp.; Hillandale Farms East, Inc.; Hillandale Farms of PA, Inc.; Hillandale Farms Conn, LLC; Hillandale Farms of Delaware, Inc.; and Hillandale-Gettysburg, L.P.
A California class-action complaint was filed in April alleging separate egg producers and grocers were participating in egg price gouging, some defendants were released from that lawsuit on Tuesday.