Attorney General Bill Schuette is focusing on the country's largest propane supplier in the latest round of price gouging complaints.
Since early December, the Attorney General's office has received 44 individual complaints against AmeriGas , 15 of which came from northern Michigan.
"It just comes down to customers not being treated right and contacting our office to complain and now we are going to the company to get answers on their behalf," Joy Yearout, AG Communications Director said.
Schuette filed a petition for additional civil subpoenas in his ongoing investigation into excessively high prices and other questionable business practices related to record high propane costs imposed on Michigan families this winter.
"Let this send a clear message to energy suppliers that we will continue this review until we get homeowners the answers they deserve," Schuette said . "My job is to protect Michigan consumers , it's this simple: if we find that state law has been broken, we will take legal action."
Complaints on propane prices in the subpeonas include residents in Grand Traverse, Emmet, Missaukee and Roscommon Counties.
As noted in the Petition for Subpoenas filed on May 9, 2014 in Marquette County Circuit Court, the complaints include allegations of possible price gouging, failure to honor existing set-price contracts, and that AmeriGas quoted some customers one price on the phone and then those customers received delivery at a higher price.
One complaint from Traverse City included in the subpeona is below:
"Thomas and Julie B of Traverse City locked in a price of $1.999 per gallon for their winter 2013-2014 purchases from AmeriGas. They filed a complaint with the Attorney General because AmeriGas was not honoring that price in two consecutive billings."
Under the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, a retailer may not charge a price that is 'grossly in excess of the price at which similar property or services are sold.' Evidence gathered to date suggests that while the statewide average retail price for propane went as high as $3.76 in early February, some AmeriGas customers were allegedly charged nearly $7.00 per gallon.
Additionally, the Consumer Protection Act prohibits other conduct that tends to mislead or deceive the consumer in relation to material aspects of the transaction in question.
Consumer Protection Act prohibits discrepancies between verbal representations of the seller and the written agreement that covers the same transaction. In this regard, information gathered to date suggests that some AmeriGas consumers ordering propane over the phone may have been misled as to what the actual price of the propane would be once it was delivered.
The Petition for Subpoenas was filed in the Marquette County Circuit Court, which has ordered AmeriGas to provide documents and testimony in Attorney General Schuette's investigation into possible violations of Michigan's Consumer Protection Act.
AmeriGas responded to the Attorney General's investigation.
" AmeriGas is aware of the subpoena issued by the Michigan Attorney General's office , w e are reviewing the allegations and investigating the facts contained in the petition ," Kate Stickel, AmeriGas Corporate Communications Director said. " Although we have not finalized our review, we are confident we did not violate the Michigan Consumer Protection laws , w e are also fully cooperating with the Attorney General's office. "
To date, Schuette has received more than 400 complaints against propane retailers involving incidents this past winter. Schuette's review of these consumer complaints remains ongoing.
In March 2014, Schuette issued subpoenas for Ferrellgas, Inc. regarding allegations of excessive pricing and misrepresenting the price that consumers would have to pay for propane. Schuette's review of documentation related submitted by Ferrellgas in response to those subpoenas continues.
"Every propane company in this country was dealing with a shortage but only Ferrellgas and AmeriGas at this point were charged," Yearout said. "The rates that they were charging for the customer seemed to be excessive."
If consumers have additional evidence suggesting that a retailer engaged in behavior that violates the Consumer Protection Act, they are encouraged to contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-765-8388 or file an online complaint at www.michigan.gov/ag.