An occasional occurrence at the cash register of a department store is finding yourself charged more for an item than the price displayed for it. This isn’t typically due to a store intentionally or fraudulently charging more for extra profit (although this does occur from time to time). Often, it is the result of expired signage, erroneous price ticketing by an employee or simple computer error. No matter what the reason, being charged too much for properly priced items is wrong and Michigan shoppers should know their available remedies.
Prior to 2011, Michigan had one of the most aggressive price ticketing laws in the country. The former Pricing and Advertising of Consumer Items Act required retailers to individually mark the prices on all of the items for sale unless that item fell into an excepted class. Effective September 1, 2011, the Shopping Reform and Modernization Act, Public Act 15 of 2011 (also called the “Scanner Law”) loosened the ticketing rules and only requires that “a person shall display the total price of a consumer item offered for sale at retail at the place of the retail sale.” MCL 445.317(1). A sign on the shelf where the item is sold with the correct price listed will now satisfy the requirements of this act.
A store is NOT required to display the total price of a consumer item at the place of the retail sale for the following merchandise:
- “A consumer item that is sold by weight or volume and is not in a package or container.” MCL 445.317(2)(a).
- “A consumer item sold in a coin-operated vending machine.” MCL 445.317(2)(b).
- “Prepared food intended for immediate consumption.” MCL 455.317(2)(c).
- “A consumer item purchased by mail or through catalog order, or that is not otherwise visible for inspection by the consumer at the time of the sale, and that is ordered or requested by the consumer, if the price of the consumer item is on the consumer’s written order or request or on a bill, invoice, or other notice that describes or names the consumer item and is enclosed with the consumer item.” MCL 445.317(2)(d).
- “An unpackaged food item.” MCL 445.317(2)(e).
- “A consumer item that has a total weight of not more than 3 ounces, a total volume of not more than 3 cubic inches, and a total price of not more than 30 cents.” MCL 445.317(2)(f).
- “Live plants.” MCL 445.317(2)(g).
- “Live animals.” MCL 445.317(2)(h).
- “Motor vehicles.” MCL 445.317(2)(i).
- “Motor vehicle parts.” MCL 445.317(2)(j).
- “Packages of 20 or fewer cigarettes.” MCL 445.317(2)(k).
- “Greeting cards that are sold individually and have a readable coded price on the back of the card.” MCL 445.317(2)(l).
- “Merchandise that is ordered as a gift by a consumer and is sent by mail or other delivery service to a person other than the consumer by the retailer at the request of the consumer.” MCL 445.317(2)(m).
It is considered prima facie evidence that this Act is violated if the price charged for a consumer item by an automatic checkout system exceeds the price displayed for that item on the shelf. MCL 445.318(3). It doesn’t matter if the higher amount at the cash register occurred intentional or by accident.
If a customer pays for an item, is given a receipt by the store and later discovers that the price on the receipt is higher than the price that was displayed at the store, what can be done about it?
First, the Scanner Law requires that, “within 30 days after purchasing a consumer item, a buyer who suffers loss because the price charged for the item is more than the price displayed for that item shall notify the seller in person or in writing that the price charged is more than the price displayed for that item.” MCL 445.319(2). The buyer must retain the receipt (or a copy of it) to show as evidence of the overcharge. The buyer is barred from any further recovery or legal action if the seller pays the buyer EITHER OF THE FOLLOWING AMOUNTS, known as a “bounty”:
- “An amount equal to the difference between the price displayed and the price charged for the consumer item, PLUS an amount equal to 10 times that difference but that is not less than $1.00 or more than $5.00.” MCL 445.319(2)(a).
- “If a loss is suffered by a buyer on 2 or more identical consumer items in a single transaction, an amount equal to the difference between the price displayed and the price charged for each of those identical items, plus an amount equal to 10 times that difference for 1 of the identical items but that is not less than $1.00 or more than $5.00.” MCL 445.319(2)(b).
If the store refuses to pay this “bounty”, then “a person that suffers loss as a result of a violation of this act may bring an individual or a class action to recover actual damages or $250.00, whichever is greater, for each day on which a violation of this act is found, together with reasonable attorneys’ fees that do not exceed $300.00 in an individual action.” MCL 445.322(2). If a buyer brings this action in the small claims division of the district court, then attorney fees cannot be awarded because small claims litigants are not allowed to have legal representation (unless he or she opts to sue in the general civil division of the district court). A buyer cannot file a legal action in court if the bounty was not demanded from the seller. (Exception: No demand necessary if the buyer can prove that the seller intentionally charged more for a consumer item than the price displayed for the item. MCL 445.319(4).
In addition, the attorney general or the prosecuting attorney can seek an injunction in court preventing a retailer from continued violations of this act. MCL 445.320(1). A retailer “that knowingly violates this act or the terms of an injunction, order, decree, or judgment issued… shall pay to the state a civil fine of not more than $1,000.00 for the first violation and not more than $5,000.00 for the second and any subsequent violation.” MCL 445.320(5). If a buyer brings to the attention of either the attorney general or prosecutor an alleged violation of this act and he or she fails to initiate an injunctive action within 60 days of the notice, then the buyer will have standing to file suit to “[o]btain a declaratory judgment that an act or practice violates this act” or “[e]njoin by temporary or permanent injunction a person that is engaging or is about to engage in an act or practice that violates this act.” MCL 445.322(1). A buyer does not have to demand a bounty first to file for injunctive relief against the seller if the attorney general or prosecuting attorney fails to act.
Our lawyers take a dim view towards retailers that exploit or swindle their customers and believe they should be held accountable for their actions. In some instances, you may avoid our expense if your legal action is successful and the seller is ordered to pay the statutory $300.00 legal fee directly to our law firm. If you have any questions about Michigan’s Scanner Law or you would like legal representation with your claim, then contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.