D.A.’s Office Reaches $1.8m Settlement

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley announced today that her office, along with the District Attorneys Offices of Fresno, Monterey, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Sonoma, and Ventura counties, has settled an unlawful business practices case against the two largest brands that market and sell barbeque propane cylinders in the United States.

Ferrellgas Partners L.P. and Ferrellgas L.P., Delaware limited partnerships (Blue Rhino) and AmeriGas Propane, L.P., a Delaware limited partnership (AmeriGas) allegedly violated California’s consumer-protection and false-advertising laws, which misled retailers’ consumers to intentionally pay for a larger amount of propane than they actually received.

In 2008, the companies faced rising fuel costs and reduced the volume of propane in their tanks from 17 pounds to 15 pounds. The correct weight of each tank was displayed on the tanks’ labels, but both companies failed to reduce the price per tank. The tanks were locked in metal “cages” before purchase, thus consumers did not see the labels, could not handle the tanks, and assumed they were filled to their safe capacity. Signs referred to the reduced-content tanks as “full”, which was inaccurate. The reduction of gas in the tanks shortened the grilling time by between 1 and 1.5 hours.

In June 2009, The California Department of Measurement Standards and local Weights & Measures officials initiated the investigation after news stories first publicized the reduction. This lead to consumer complaints claiming they were deceived.

Today’s settlement resolves the prosecutors’ civil complaint originally filed in Alameda County Superior Court. Under the stipulated final judgment, the Blue Rhino companies will pay a total of $1 million in civil penalties and costs, and AmeriGas companies will pay a total of $800,000 in civil penalties and costs. In addition, the companies, without admitting or denying wrongdoing, will be bound by an injunction requiring they post notices on their enclosures explaining the actual quantity of propane in the tanks. The companies cooperated with officials during the investigation.

“The dedication of the many D.A. Offices involved in this case resulted in today’s settlement,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. “My Office remains vigilant to ensure justice is served for consumers who fall victim to fraudulent and misleading claims.”

Contact: DDA Bob Hartman
Alameda County District Attorney’s Office
Main Line: (510) 383-8600

Posted on Dec 5, 2013