Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and his office have been working on multiple fronts to protect Angelenos during this pandemic.
These actions fall into the following categories:
Fighting false or misleading claims about test kits, preventions and cures. This is a key priority because public health is at stake. A false negative from an unreliable test kit could lead a person inadvertently to infect others; a false positive could cause needless anxiety and dissipate resources needed for those genuinely ill. Fake preventions and cures could result in preventable transmission of the virus.
Through multiple lawsuits, cease and desist letters, investigations and other action, our office has done the following:
1. Stopped three companies from advertising and selling unapproved home test kits. In one case we secured restitution for approximately 800 customers of more than $170,000. We filed a fourth lawsuit this week against a company which allegedly sold unapproved test kits and purported anti-COVID disinfectants, allegedly fabricating a scientific study to boost its sales. We are not aware of any other public law office in the nation that has filed lawsuits like these.
As a result of our work in this area, we have been sought out as a partner by the U.S. Attorney’s COVID-19 task force and have received case referrals from (and worked in close cooperation with) multiple federal, state, and local agencies.
2. Stopped a vitamin company from advertising and selling vitamins as a COVID prevention or cure.
3. Stopped a company from selling radish paste as a purported COVID prevention/cure. Immediately after we filed our lawsuit, the company removed the false claims from its website and social media and stipulated to a preliminary injunction which prohibits it from making additional false claims.
4. Stopped a company from offering 'COVID-19' disinfectant products that we allege were falsely advertised as 'EPA approved' and able to protect consumers for 28 days after application, and forced the company to take down a fake ‘scientific’ white paper it had posted on the internet purporting to support these claims.
5. Stopped Jim Bakker and the Jim Bakker show from advertising and selling a purported coronavirus prevention/cure called Silver Solution, in tandem with enforcement actions by federal authorities and the Missouri Attorney General.
6. Stopped Norwegian Cruise Lines from promoting cruises to warm-weather locations, with claims that such cruises are safer from COVID-19.
Combating price gouging of protective masks, hand sanitizer and other key items. Our office has already filed six criminal price-gouging cases. Many of these cases were made possible through our outreach to Amazon, which agreed to share information with us on products that were offered at excessively high process at Amazon and remove objectionable listings. Cases we filed using crucial information we received from Amazon include a complaint alleging that a vendor sold two liters of hand sanitizer for $249, and another alleging a vendor sold a package of ten protective masks for as much as $269.
We have also been working closely with LAPD to investigate and follow up on the over 800 consumer price-gouging complaints we have received. To date, LAPD officers have personally served more than 80 of our cease and desist letters on brick-and-mortar businesses, following up on allegations of price gouging and sharing information on legal requirements with business owners as they do. LAPD reports that these efforts have resulted in voluntary compliance by most businesses. Where they have not been successful, LAPD is referring these cases to our office for prosecution.
We also helped create and serve on a Joint Coronavirus Task Force with the District Attorney, the Los Angeles County Department of Business and Consumer Affairs, and County Counsel, focused principally on stemming price gouging online and in brick-and-mortar stores.
Fighting other pandemic-related crimes. Our office has filed additional criminal cases arising from the pandemic, including one alleging that unapproved COVID-19 test kits were sold through Craig’s List.
Enforcing and successfully defending the Safer at Home Order. Businesses are struggling to hang on during the pandemic, with employees depending on them for their salaries and communities relying on them for goods and services. It is incumbent on businesses to comply with the Order, however, to protect public health and enable all of us to get back to work sooner.
Adopting an education-first approach, our office has followed up on complaints by making more than 1,800 calls to businesses in an effort to obtain voluntary compliance with the Order. LAPD has followed up with businesses that did not comply by issuing at least one warning. If a business continued to flout the Order, LAPD referred the matter to our office for potential prosecution. We have filed more than 70 cases so far.
In addition, our office has successfully defended the Order in court, most notably prevailing in two separate efforts by gun activists who sought emergency orders that would have exempted gun stores from the Order.
Protecting victims of domestic, elder and child abuse trapped with their abusers. The requirement that most Angelenos remain at home has placed victims of domestic, elder and child abuse in peril. They are trapped with their abusers and without watchful eyes and other support that might otherwise protect them. So our office, along with the District Attorney, the Grocers Association and the LAUSD, created "Behind Closed Doors," a partnership that provides key information about services and support available to abuse victims during the emergency.
Grappling with hate incidents targeting the Asian Pacific Islander community. Federal officials and others who have termed COVID-19 the "Chinese flu," or similar titles have helped fuel a dramatic increase in hate incidents targeting Asian-Americans across America. In response, our office held a virtual forum on this rise in API hate incidents, with experts from human relations and law enforcement raising awareness about the issue, emphasizing the importance of reporting, underscoring that law enforcement will follow up, and sending the message to perpetrators that such incidents will not be tolerated.
Providing gun violence prevention tools to prosecutors and law enforcement throughout the nation. Our office worked closely with the District Attorney of Manhattan, New York, and other members of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence throughout the nation (the City Attorney is a co-founder and co-chair) to hold a nationwide virtual summit on gun violence issues tied to at-home crimes more likely to be perpetrated during the pandemic.
Expanding access to free legal services. Our office coordinated with the Office of the Mayor to establish LA Represents, a consortium of private and public interest lawyers devoted to providing free legal services to small businesses, tenants and others confronting COVID-related hardships.
Writing numerous COVID-related laws to protect and assist Angelenos. Our office has rapidly drafted numerous emergency ordinances arising from the pandemic, including ordinances to combat price gouging (which our office proposed), protect tenants, assist seniors, protect workers, streamline City operations, address parking restrictions, and more.
More about this work can be found at lacityattorney.org/covid19.