Since the beginning of the pandemic, many governors have issued executive orders targeted at combating price gouging. However, one California state senator, Senator Thomas Umberg, proposed going a step further. In April 2020, Senator Umberg introduced Senate Bill 1196, which would codify many of the provisions in California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-44-20. On September 30, 2020, Governor Newsom signed the bill into law. In connection with the signing, Senator Umberg stated that “[t]his decisive action ensures that fewer of our neighbors will be victims of price gouging.”

California Penal Code Section 396 prohibits price gouging during a declared state of emergency. Specifically, Section 396 states that “it is unlawful for a person, contractor, business, or other entity to sell or offer to sell . . . [a covered good] for a price of more than 10 percent greater than the price charged by that person for those goods or services immediately prior to the proclamation or declaration of emergency.” Section 396, however does not address situations where a seller did not sell a product prior to the declaration of emergency. Executive Order N-44-20 closes this loophole. The Executive Orders provides:

If a person or other entity (including, but not limited to, any business enterprise of any kind) did not offer an item for sale on February 4, 2020 … that person or entity shall not-from April 4, 2020 until September 4, 2020 … offer to sell that item for an unconscionably excessive price. [A] price is unconscionably excessive if that price is more than 50 percent greater than whichever of the following applies: a) The amount that the person or entity paid for the item; or b) If the person or entity did not purchase the item, the total cost, to the person or entity, of producing and selling the item.

On September 3, 2020, Governor Newsom extended Executive Order N-44-20 through March 4, 2021.

Similar to Executive Order N-44-20, Senate Bill 1196 amends Section 396 to address sellers that did not offer the product at issue prior to a declared state of emergency. The bill prohibits a seller that did not sell the product prior to the declared state of emergency from charging a price that is 50% greater than the seller’s existing costs. The bill also authorizes the Governor or Legislature to extend the duration of price gouging provisions for periods greater than 30 days. According to San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan, “[t]his law will close a troubling loophole in California’s price gouging law, and ensure that all sellers — brick-and-mortar stores or online business, previous sellers or new market entrants — are prohibited from preying on our state’s consumers during a declared emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As the pandemic drags on, and many states continue to extend their pricing restrictions put in place earlier this year, other states may take similar actions to codify executive orders to strengthen existing (or non-existing) price gouging laws. For more information on state price gouging laws and executive orders, view our interactive price gouging map.

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Visit Proskauer on Price Gouging for antitrust insights on COVID-19.

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Proskauer’s cross-disciplinary, cross-jurisdictional Coronavirus Response Team is focused on supporting and addressing client concerns. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Center for guidance on risk management measures, practical steps businesses can take and resources to help manage ongoing operations.

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Photo of Kelly Landers Hawthorne Kelly Landers Hawthorne

Kelly Landers Hawthorne is an associate in the Litigation Department and a member of the Antitrust and Product Liability groups. She represents clients in litigations and due diligence across a range of industries, including consumer products, life sciences, healthcare, education, hospitality, sports and…

Kelly Landers Hawthorne is an associate in the Litigation Department and a member of the Antitrust and Product Liability groups. She represents clients in litigations and due diligence across a range of industries, including consumer products, life sciences, healthcare, education, hospitality, sports and entertainment.

Kelly also maintains a diverse pro bono practice. She received Proskauer’s Golden Gavel Award for excellence in pro bono work in 2019.

She is a frequent contributor to Proskauer’s Minding Your Business blog, where she authors articles related to price gouging issues.

Kelly is also a member of the Proskauer Women’s Alliance Steering Committee, where she serves on subcommittees focused on highlighting and providing professional development opportunities for women at the firm.

Prior to her legal career, Kelly was a Teach For America corps member and taught middle school in Washington, DC.

While at Columbia Law School, Kelly served as an articles editor of the Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts and interned for the Honorable Sandra Townes of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Photo of John R. Ingrassia John R. Ingrassia

John is a partner at the Firm, advising on the full range of foreign investment and antitrust matters across industries, including chemicals, pharmaceutical, medical devices, telecommunications, financial services consumer goods and health care. He is the first call clients make in matters relating…

John is a partner at the Firm, advising on the full range of foreign investment and antitrust matters across industries, including chemicals, pharmaceutical, medical devices, telecommunications, financial services consumer goods and health care. He is the first call clients make in matters relating to competition and antitrust, CFIUS or foreign investment issues.

For more than 25 years, John has counselled businesses facing the most challenging antitrust issues and helped them stay out of the crosshairs — whether its distribution, pricing, channel management, mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures, or price gouging compliance.

John’s practice focuses on the analysis and resolution of CFIUS and antitrust issues related to mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures, and the analysis and assessment of pre-merger CFIUS and HSR notification requirements. He advises clients on issues related to CFIUS national security reviews, and on CFIUS submissions when non-U.S. buyers seek to acquire U.S. businesses that have national security sensitivities.  He also regularly advises clients on international antitrust issues arising in proposed acquisitions and joint ventures, including reportability under the EC Merger Regulation and numerous other foreign merger control regimes.

His knowledge, reputation and extensive experience with the legal, practical, and technical requirements of merger clearance make him a recognized authority on Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust merger review. John is regularly invited to participate in Federal Trade Commission and bar association meetings and takes on the issues of the day.

Photo of Christopher E. Ondeck Christopher E. Ondeck

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s Antitrust Group and co-head of the Washington DC office. He represents clients in complex antitrust and consumer protection litigation, defends mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, represents companies involved in government investigations, and counsels…

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s Antitrust Group and co-head of the Washington DC office. He represents clients in complex antitrust and consumer protection litigation, defends mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, represents companies involved in government investigations, and counsels on antitrust compliance. Chris is also the founder and leader of the firm’s Price Gouging Practice, and is one of the key thought leaders in this space.

Chris handles antitrust matters for clients in a number of industries, including food and agriculture, financial services, media, telecom, technology, e-commerce, consumer products, natural resources, oil and gas, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.  He also serves as outside counsel to a large number of industry groups, including trade associations and cooperatives.

Chris has been recognized as a leading antitrust practitioner by Chambers, noting that clients describe him as “our primary thought partner – he’s very good at explaining the complex issues and making them easy to understand” and praising “his strong advocacy skills”; by The National Law Review as a “Go To Thought Leader 2020”; by Acritas as a “Star” in multiple years; by Benchmark Litigation as a National Litigation Star 2021; and by The Legal 500 United States for Antitrust: Civil Litigation/Class Actions.