Photo of 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 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.

Pricing algorithms are nothing new. They are, generally speaking, computer programs intended to help sellers optimize prices in real time, or close to it. These programs can use data on demand, costs, or even competitors’ prices to “learn” to set the prices of products. What is new is the proliferation of these programs across industries and the emergence of artificial intelligence-driven pricing algorithms. 

In an unsigned per curiam opinion yesterday in Gonzalez v. Google, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s judgment— which had held that plaintiffs’ complaint was barred by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – and remanded it. But the Court’s opinion entirely skirted a highly-anticipated issue: whether Section 230 does, in fact, shelter as much activity as courts have held to date.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument last week in cases that will have extensive implications for online platforms, and, more broadly, for internet speech across the board. Gonzalez v. Google, in particular, may result in a first-of-its-kind clarification of the scope of 47 U.S.C. § 230. 

Antitrust claims in a class action case filed against Amazon in U.S. Federal District Court will largely proceed, after the Court allowed most of the consumers’ pricing claims to survive a motion for summary judgment.  The Court dismissed a Sherman Act claim, but allowed most other claims to proceed.  Of particular note, Amazon’s “most favored nation” (MFN) policy will continue to be under scrutiny, despite the fact that courts typically do not find MFNs to be anticompetitive.  It is widely recognized that MFNs, in fact, often serve procompetitive purposes.

One of the bellwether price gouging cases from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic was recently reversed and remanded by New York’s First Judicial Department of the Appellate Division.  

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced in May 2020 that her office had filed a lawsuit against a wholesale grocery distributor – Quality King Distributors – and its CEO for price gouging. The lawsuit alleged that between January 2020 and April 2020, Quality King raised the price of Lysol when its costs had not increased, “dramatically boost[ing] its gross profit margins for Lysol Spray, almost quintupling them over its pre-crisis margins.” Quality King sold 46,104 cans of Lysol during the time in question, and “each time one of these [] cans of Lysol was sold at retail for an inflated price – and each time a person bought any other Lysol product whose price Quality King had inflated – Quality King’s price-gouging caused injury to a consumer,” the lawsuit stated. The Attorney General seeks, among other relief, disgorgement of all profits from the illegal practice and a civil penalty of $25,000.

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and California have taken recent steps to further protect the infant formula market from price gouging. On June 7, 2022, the D.C. Council passed the “Infant Formula Consumer Protection Emergency Act.” The Act, which will remain in effect for 90 days, targets companies selling baby formula at extremely high prices. The Act provides that companies may be subject to a $5,000 fine, for first-time offenses, or a $10,000 fine, for subsequent offenses, if they sell infant formula at a price greater than 20% of what they previously sold substantially similar formula in the District over the 90-day period prior to February 17, 2022. If the retailer never sold a substantially similar formula product in that 90-day period, they would face fines if they sell infant formula at a price greater than 20% of the average price of substantially similar infant formula product from substantially similar retailers.

On May 24, 2022, the FTC announced a widespread inquiry into the ongoing infant formula shortage. The agency had been tasked by the White House with investigating any price gouging or unfair market practices in the industry. The agency is seeking public comments on “various factors that may have contributed to the infant formula shortage…as well as its impact on families and retailers.”

Many companies have increased prices in recent months.  Reportedly, across the economy, prices “rose by 5 percent in May compared with a year ago.” Restaurants are raising prices to cover the cost of increases in wages in a tight labor market.  The prices of used and rental cars are quickly rising, due to low inventory and higher demand. Gasoline prices have risen, and not just as a result of the recent cyberattack.