New Amendments to Consumer Protection Legislation in D.C.
Chapter 39 of Title 28 of the D.C. Code, otherwise known as the Consumer Protection Procedures Act or CPPA for short, is a consumer protection and privacy law that was originally passed in Washington D.C. in 1976 and was recently amended in 2020. The CPPA was passed for the purpose of protecting consumers within Washington D.C. from unfair and deceptive business practices. More specifically, “the CPPA prohibits unfair and deceptive practices in connection with the offer, sale, and supply of consumer goods and services, and establishes an enforceable right to truthful information from merchants about consumer goods and services.” Moreover, the CPPA also establishes the punishments that organizations and businesses within Washington D.C. stand to face should they violate the provisions set forth in the law.
What are the provisions of the CPPA?
The Consumer Protection Procedures Act establishes various actions that are considered to be unfair or deceptive under the law. In defining what constitutes an unfair or deceptive trade act under the law, the CPPA gives “due consideration and weight” to the Federal Trade Commission or FTC, as well as legal precedent. As stated in Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, “an act or practice may be found to be unfair where it causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers which is not reasonably avoidable by consumers themselves and not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition.” To this point, the actions that the CPPA establishes as being unfair or deceptive under the provisions of the law include but are not limited to:
- Representing goods or products as being original or new when they are in fact “deteriorated, altered, reconditioned, reclaimed, or second hand, or have been used.”
- Representing that a particular product, good, or service is of a particular quality, style, model, or standard when they are in fact of another.
- Representing that a particular product, good, or service had a sponsorship, source, approval, uses, benefits, characteristics, ingredients, or accessories that said product, service, or good does not in fact have.
- Advertising or offering a particular product, good, or service without intending to sell the said product, good, or service, or providing consumers with a product, good, or service that does not represent what has been advertised.
- Falsely stating that a good or product needs servicing, replacement, or repairs that are not in fact needed.
- Passing of a product, good, or service as that of another.
- Misrepresenting the authority of a sales representative, agent, or associated third party as it concerns the ability of said individuals to negotiate the final terms of a transaction in relation to a particular product, good, or service.
What types of businesses and organizations are subject to the provisions of the CPPA?
In terms of the scope and application of the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, the provisions of the law are only applicable to merchants who conduct operations within Washington D.C. Alternatively, lawsuits in regards to violations of the CPPA are limited to consumers within Washington D.C., as the law does not cover transactions that are conducted between businesses and merchants. To this end, the law defines a merchant as “a person, whether organized or operating for profit or for a nonprofit purpose, who in the ordinary course of business does or would sell, lease (to), or transfer, either directly or indirectly, consumer goods or services, or a person who in the ordinary course of business does or would supply the goods or services which are or would be the subject matter of a trade practice.”
What are the penalties for violating the CPPA?
In terms of penalties that merchants are subject to should they fail to adhere to the provisions that were set forth in the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, the CPPA is enforced by both the Director of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection or the Director for short, as well as the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. Under the CPPA, consumers within Washington D.C. have the right to file a complaint with the Director, should they feel as though they have been subjected to unfair or deceptive trade practices. As such, the Attorney General for the District of Columbia has the authority to impose the following punishments against merchants within the city who are found to be in violation of the law:
- Punitive damages.
- Injunctive relief.
- A monetary penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation.
- “The costs of the action and reasonable attorneys’ fees.”
While many of the provisions of Washington D.C.’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act have been in effect for more than 40 years, recent amendments to the law have provided citizens of the city with more updated protections in terms of the ways in which business is being conducted in the 21st century. Through the CPPA, residents of Washington D.C. have the means to seek both justice and compensation for any adverse consequences they experience as a result of an unfair or deceptive business practice that is being undertaken by a particular merchant within the city. As such, residents of Washington D.C. can ensure that they cannot be legally taken advantage of in the context of business transactions.