Minnesota Files Price Gouging Suit Against Egg Producer

Although many states of emergency have expired, new lawsuits that allege price gouging continue to be filed.  On September 3, 2021, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a complaint in Minnesota state court against Sparboe Farms, Inc. alleging the company engaged in price gouging for the sale of eggs in violation of the Minnesota Governor’s executive order.

The case is significant because Minnesota does not have a price gouging statute. Instead, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued Executive Order 20-10 on March 20, 2020, prohibiting “unconscionably excessive increases in the prices of essential items during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency.”  Under the executive order, “unconscionably excessive increases” includes charging a price more than 20 percent greater than the amount charged for the same product in the 30 days prior to March 13, 2020, when the state of emergency was declared.  The case alleges as its sole substantive violation a failure to comply with the Executive Order.

According to the complaint, during March and April 2020, Sparboe—one of the nation’s leading shell egg producers—sold its eggs at double and triple the prices charged in February and March.  In February and March, the Attorney General alleges the average price for a dozen Sparboe eggs was between $0.84 and $1.00.  The complaint then alleges the price for a dozen Sparboe eggs rose to almost $3.00 in late March and early April.  The Attorney General also details alleged communications among Sparboe employees regarding the prices.  For instance, the complaint alleges the Sparboe president exchanged messages with her employees that conveyed that “demand” and reduced outputs had “led to strong buying interest,” so strong that the price of eggs could jump from $1 per dozen to $3 per dozen.

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