Outsourcing enforcement in Mass

Massachusetts consumer protection law includes “item pricing” regulations.” A shopper who picks up an item marked $3.19, but is charged $3.59 at the checkout, has been the victim of a violation of these rules. If a state wishes to address such incidents, a practical question arises: how to enforce legal rules when they involve such trifling amounts of money per incident? Enter class action lawyers, naturally. According to the Boston Globe, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly has farmed out the enforcement of these rules to a group of private attorneys — who are doing quite well for themselves. Cases against Home Depot and Wal-Mart have been settled; a settlement with Walgreen is pending. If the Walgreen settlement is finalized, the outcome of all this acitivity will be the payment of $3.2 million to the private attorneys, $3.9 million to “an eclectic group of charitable, consumer, and nonprofit groups,” and $425,000 to the AG’s Office. The list of favored groups includes, among others, the Roscoe Pound Institute and Public Citizen. The Globe points out that “it would be impossible to identify consumers hurt by item-pricing failures”; one of the private attorneys claims in the story that the payments to the favored groups will benefit Massachusetts residents, with most being used to “spur greater awareness of consumer rights.” Cases against other retailers (in addition to Walgreen) are pending. (Bruce Mohl, “Reilly turns to private enforcement of item pricing,” Boston Globe, June 27)

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  • Mass.: consumer-suit moneys enrich litigation lobby

    Via Mike DeBow (Jun. 28), who just finished guestblogging on Overlawyered: Massachusetts AG Thomas Reilly has been letting private law firms enforce the state’s “item pricing” law, which requires stores to stamp prices on individual items and provides …