Q: “I went to this independent grocery store recently and I think that the owner was pulling a scam. The prices that were marked were not the prices that I was charged. Additionally, I think that he falsified the quality of the meat he was selling as the meat that I bought was very chewy and what he called a pound was not quite a pound. I think it’s a rip-off. What is the law concerning what the store owner’s responsibility?”
A: Grover, what you have experienced is a type of fraud and unfair competition. In California, this was so rampant there was an entire department created to monitor this, the California Department of Food and Agriculture Division of Measurement Standards. The laws that protect consumers in these types of situations are generally contained within the Business and Professions Code.
There is jurisdiction for the division to police unfair representations and manipulations of weights of goods that are sold. They are the ones that place a stamp on scales, gas pumps etc. Consumers who are ripped off may bring a claim under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act as well as sue for fraud.
The issue you raise about the advertised price being different than the actual sales price is covered by California Business and Professions Code Section 12024.2, which states: “It is unlawful for any person, at the time of sale of a commodity, to do any of the following: 1) charge an amount greater than the price, or to compute an amount greater than a true extension of a price per unit, that is then advertised, posted, marked, displayed, or quoted for that commodity; 2) charge an amount greater than the lowest price posted on the commodity itself or on a shelf tag that corresponds to the commodity, notwithstanding any limitation of the time period for which the posted price is in effect.”
Business and Professions Code Section 12024.2 also states that, aside from membership in customer rewards clubs or when a minimum number of items must be purchased to receive a lower price, when more than one price for the same commodity is advertised, posted, marked, displayed or quoted, the person offering the commodity for sale shall charge the lowest of those prices.
Officials of the Division of Measurement Standards are charged with investigating and enforcing the department’s regulations. A business owner who deliberately overcharges or misrepresents the weight or volume of a product is subject to both a fine and conviction of a crime. A violation of Section 12024.2 is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $25 nor more than $1,000, by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not exceeding one year or by both if the violation is willful or grossly negligent or when the overcharge is more than $1. If the overcharge is $1 or less, a violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a fine of not more than $100.
Business and Professions Code Section 12024.6, concerning false advertising, states that “no person, firm, corporation, or association shall advertise, solicit, or represent by any means, a product for sale or purchase if it is intended to entice a consumer into a transaction different from that originally represented.”
This is the section that is designed to preclude the traditional bait-and-switch where, for example, a car dealer advertises a type and model of a car at a very low price when it doesn’t have that product in stock and, instead, when a client comes in, offers for sale a different product at a higher price. This is a violation of Section 12024.6.
So, Grover, if you are in a store and there is an advertised price but the store charges more, demand that you be given the price that is marked. That is the law. If you are sold a product that does not weigh the amount you were told, or the grade of the product is not as represented, contact the Department of Food and Agriculture (www.cdfa.ca.gov) and file a complaint.
Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.