New York attorney general Letitia James has filed a lawsuit against Hillandale Farms, one of the country’s largest producers and wholesale distributors of eggs, alleging that the company price gouged during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
In March and April 2020, according to the suit, Hillandale allegedly gouged the prices of more than 4 million cartons of eggs sold to major grocery store chains, U.S. military facilities and wholesale food distributors throughout the state, charging New York customers up to four times the pre-pandemic price for one carton of eggs.
James is alleging that during those two months, the egg producer made an estimated $4 million from unlawfully increasing the price of these eggs, which were often sold in grocery stores located in low-income communities. The lawsuit seeks restitution from Hillandale for consumers who were forced to pay unlawfully high prices for this essential food item.
The New York Attorney General’s Office learned of Hillandale’s price gouging after receiving complaints from consumers about the high prices of eggs at grocery stores.
“As this pandemic ravaged our country, Hillandale exploited hardworking New Yorkers to line its own pockets,” James said. “In less than two months, Hillandale made millions by cheating our most vulnerable communities and our service members -- actions that are both unlawful and truly rotten. I will always stand up for working people, especially when they are taken advantage of by corporate greed.”
The lawsuit alleges that Hillandale, based in Ohio and Pennsylvania, began raising prices during March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic grew to emergency levels. In January 2020, Hillandale charged Western Beef supermarkets prices ranging from 59 cents to $1.10 for a dozen large white eggs. On March 15, Hillandale raised that price to $1.49, and as the pandemic progressed, Hillandale repeatedly raised the prices it charged Western Beef, eventually reaching $2.93/doz. — a price almost five times the price Hillandale charged in January, according to the complaint.
Hillandale allegedly gouged prices similarly on eggs sold to the commissary store at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, charging $3.15 per carton of large eggs in April 2020, almost quadruple the price of 84 cents it charged West Point in January. The suit alleges that Hillandale raised its prices similarly on eggs sold to Stop & Shop, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Associated Supermarkets and the commissary stores at the U.S. military bases at Ft. Hamilton and Ft. Drum.
As Hillandale raised prices on the eggs it sold to grocery stores, consumers complained that the grocery stores raised the prices they charged to consumers. One elderly consumer complained to the Attorney General’s Office in April that he attempted to buy Hillandale eggs at a Fine Fare store located on the lower east side of Manhattan, N.Y., only to find that “all prices are $2.30 and double the price.” He stated, “I’ve been living in the community for 65 years. The prices are ridiculous. ... [It's] sad and disrespectful to people who are buying from them all our lives.” Another consumer shopping at a Western Beef store complained that the retail price for a dozen Hillandale eggs had increased to $5.49, stating, “This location serves low-income families who, due to the current pandemic emergency, have most likely lost what little income they have. Disgraceful!”
The lawsuit alleges that Hillandale has raised its prices not because of increased costs but simply to take advantage of higher consumer demand during the pandemic.
The lawsuit brings claims against six Hillandale Farms companies, including Hillandale Farms Corp., Hillandale Farms East Inc., Hillandale Farms of PA Inc., Hillandale Farms Conn LLC, Hillandale Farms of Delaware Inc. and Hillandale-Gettysburg LP.
The lawsuit was filed in the Commercial Division of New York State Supreme Court for New York County. James is suing for a permanent injunction barring Hillandale from continuing its illegal conduct, restitution for injured consumers, damages, civil penalties and disgorgement of Hillandale’s profits from the illegal practices.
At press time, Hillandale Farms had not responded to a request for comment.