Consumer, Wage, and Antitrust Division manager Jason Pleggenkuhle said the office created teams to investigate violations involving restaurants and other places of public accommodation, price gouging and evictions. Several high-profile cases involving bars and restaurants opening despite the executive orders and then closing after action from the Attorney General’s Office served a “deterrent value to ensure others comply with the order,” he said.
Assistant Attorney General Noah Lewellen said the department works with local police and state agencies on executive order violations in order to monitor compliance in Minnesota’s 87 counties. So far, the state has not lost any challenges to the governor’s ability to close different establishments during a crisis, he said.
Price gouging, especially early in the pandemic, led to investigations by Assistant Attorney General Eric Maloney. After Gov. Tim Walz put a 20% cap on price increases for essential items, including protective equipment and food staples, the department formed a team that included attorneys throughout the office to study more than 2,300 price gouging complaints.
They sent warning letters to businesses detailing price gouging concerns, a practice that has brought widespread compliance, he said. The letters solved issues, with just a handful of court-filed settlements required.
Assistant Attorney General Katherine Kelly led a team enforcing the governor’s moratorium on evictions and ending leases. More than 2,100 tenants reported violations. Many landlords “are mom and pop” building owners and had not heard about the governor’s decision to stop evictions. Kelly said the calls resulted in widespread compliance, with just a few cases leading to enforcement cases.
The Attorney General’s Office continues to focus on encouraging compliance with executive orders. “Our goal across these teams is voluntary compliance, and we view enforcement action as the last resort,” Pleggenkuhle said.
Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2020 here.
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