Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar Caught Selling Expired and Obsolete Items… Chains have Agreed to Significant Business Reforms
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced yesterday that Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar will pay $1.2 million in fines and damages for selling expired products. The settlements resolve a multi-month undercover investigation over the chains’ sale of expired over-the-counter drugs, Dollar General’s sale of obsolete motor oil, and Dollar Tree and Family Dollar’s failure to comply with New York’s bottle deposit law.
Attorney General Letitia James today announced discount retail chains Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar will pay $1.2 million in fines and damages for selling expired products. The settlements resolve a multi-month undercover investigation over the chains’ sale of expired over-the-counter drugs, Dollar General’s sale of obsolete motor oil, and Dollar Tree and Family Dollar’s failure to comply with New York’s bottle deposit law.
“It’s a tough pill for New Yorkers to swallow that the over-the-counter drugs they were buying may have been expired,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “New York consumers have a right to expect that products on store shelves are safe, fresh and suitable for their advertised use. These settlements will ensure that Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar will not only pay both a substantial fine and damages, but, more importantly, update their business practices to comply with the law so that no expired over-the-counter drugs are sold to a New York consumer again.”
Beginning in March 2016, investigators for the New York State Office of the Attorney General conducted undercover visits to numerous Dollar stores throughout New York State to inspect store shelves for expired products. At a number of Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar stores, investigators found over-the-counter drugs that were months beyond their expiration dates. New York law prohibits the sale of over-the-counter drugs beyond the date marked on the product’s label.
Additionally, investigators also found on shelves at a number of Dollar General stores a variety of Dollar General-branded motor oils that are obsolete, including DG SAE-30 – which is not suitable for most automobile engines built after 1930 – and DG SAE 10W-40 and DG SAE 10W-30 motor oils – which are not suitable for use in most engines built after 1988. The Dollar-General branded motor oil bottles used the same or similar descriptors as other brands of motor oil that are suitable for modern engines and were placed next to those brands on store shelves. There were also no on-shelf signs near those products to warn consumers of their unsuitability for use in modern engines.
Finally, beginning in December 2017, undercover investigators visited a number of Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores and attempted to return bottles that are subject to New York’s bottle deposit law. At some stores, investigators were either told that the store did not accept deposit bottles for return, or would only accept them with proof of purchase, in violation of New York’s bottle deposit law, which requires retail stores to accept beverage containers for redemption if they are of the design, shape, size, color, composition, and brand sold or offered for sale at the store. At some stores, investigators also purchased a Starbucks brand bottle of Frappuccino, and in some cases, were charged a bottle deposit, even though the bottles are not subject to New York’s bottle deposit law.
The settlements with both Dollar General and Dollar Tree/Family Dollar (Dollar Tree acquired Family Dollar in 2015, but each chain continues to maintain separate store operations) require the New York stores to make significant reforms to their policies and procedures for managing their stock of over-the-counter drugs, including:
Maintaining and utilizing a system for electronically recording and tracking the expiration dates on merchandise delivered to their distribution centers,
Maintaining and enforcing policies and procedures that require employees to rotate stock when restocking store shelves, as well as conducting weekly inspections of store shelves to remove any expired products,
Conducting monthly audits of each retail store to check for expired products, and
Instituting third-party audits of 10% of the chains’ New York stores for a period of at least one year to check for expired over-the-counter drugs.
Additionally, Dollar General discontinued the sale of obsolete motor oil during the course of the investigation and has agreed to pay $1,100,000 in restitution, damages, penalties, and costs to the State of New York. Dollar General customers who purchased obsolete motor oil may file a complaint online or call 1-800-771-7755 to be mailed a form.
Dollar Tree and Family Dollar have also agreed to comply with New York’s bottle deposit law, train its employees on redemption procedures, and pay $100,000 in penalties and costs to the state.
This investigation was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Amy Schallop and Emily Auletta, Deputy Bureau Chief Laura J. Levine, and Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia – all of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau. Additionally, Deanna Nelson, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Watertown Regional Office, and the New York Attorney General’s Investigations Bureau assisted with the investigation. The Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau is overseen by Chief Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Christopher D’Angelo.
Separate from the New York Attorney General’s actions, Dollar General remains subject to class action lawsuits involving 16 states that have been consolidated and certified in federal court in Missouri. The class action claims that consumers had been financially injured by Dollar General selling obsolete motor oils.