AmeriGas ‘confident’ actions did not violate state consumer laws

MARQUETTE – A spokeswoman for AmeriGas said Thursday the company is “confident” it did not violate any Michigan consumer protection laws in its dealing with the state’s propane customers this winter.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette recently filed a petition in Marquette County Circuit Court seeking testimony and documents from AmeriGas in his ongoing investigation into possible propane price gouging and other potential violations of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.

Schuette’s office has received more than 400 complaints from consumers across the state made against propane suppliers this winter.

Schuette’s petition filed recently in Marquette County Circuit Court requested issuance of an investigative subpoena to AmeriGas, which has a local office in Negaunee and does business at more than 50 locations in Michigan.

Schuette’s office has received 44 consumer complaints alleging misconduct by AmeriGas or Holton’s LP and Rural Gas & Appliance, which are other AmeriGas entities in Michigan.

Kate Stickel, director of communications for AmeriGas at the company’s headquarters in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, said Thursday AmeriGas had received the subpoena and was reviewing it, and the company will investigate the facts of incidents described in Schuette’s petition.

“We’re confident that we didn’t violate any consumer protection laws,” Stickel said.

In March, Schuette filed similar petitions in Saginaw County Circuit Court, requesting information from Ferrellgas, after receiving 65 consumer complaints. Schuette’s investigation and review of information supplied by Ferrellgas continues. The company has denied any wrongdoing.

Like in the Ferrellgas petition, Schuette stated he has probable cause to believe AmeriGas has violated the Consumer Protection Act by charging prices grossly in excess of what has been charged by other propane retailers; telling customers the product will be supplied at one price, but charging another and leading customers to believe they had locked in a set rate when propane prices were low, but then failing to deliver on that pricing.

Schuette’s 24-page ex parte petition to Marquette County Circuit Court for subpoenas detailed several incidents reported by customers to Schuette’s office.

“Investigation into the pricing and order processing practices of AmeriGas is needed to determine to what extent, if any, the Michigan Consumer Protection Act has been violated,” Schuette wrote. “The facts to this point present probable cause to believe there are such violations, but the investigative process will also give AmeriGas an opportunity to explain itself.”

Schuette wants to depose customer service representatives, on-site office managers and corporate representatives of AmeriGas’ choosing to “ensure that a complete and fair understanding of AmeriGas’ pricing and consumer relations practices are obtained.”

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.