Protecting Pennsylvania Consumers

  • The Public Protection Division affects and works with Pennsylvanians on a more much of an individual level than the other OAG divisions do.  This is because the Public Protection Division's mission is to help citizens with everything from individual consumer complaints to complex affirmative civil litigation cases that can seek to recover hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of larger groups of constituents.

    The Public Protection Division serves those functions through seven sections:

    • Antitrust
    • Bureau of Consumer Protection
    • Charitable Trusts & Organizations
    • Civil Rights Enforcement and Special Litigation
    • Health Care
    • Tobacco Enforcement
    • Office of Consumer Advocate

    The Public Protection Division is headed by an Executive Deputy Attorney General who is the Director and has overall responsibility for ensuring that the functions of the Division are properly administered. The Director of the Public Protection Division reports to the Attorney General and the First Deputy Attorney General and is responsible for keeping members of the Executive Office advised of all non-routine or sensitive matters.

    The Public Protection Division has regional offices located throughout the Commonwealth.  Attorneys in this Division appear before the Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas; Pennsylvania Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme Courts; federal courts; and state and federal administrative agencies.

    The Antitrust Section protects the free enterprise system by taking legal action to stop anti-competitive practices which increase prices or reduce overall consumer choice.  This Section seeks to ensure that all restraints on competition are removed from the flow of commerce, so that consumers and businesses alike can enjoy the full benefits of open competition. 

    The Bureau of Consumer Protection mediates and investigates consumer complaints.  It takes legal action against companies that engage in unfair business practices in cases where a lawsuit by the Attorney General serves the public interest and benefits the citizens of the Commonwealth.  The Commonwealth Attorneys Act requires that the Attorney General maintain a Bureau of Consumer Protection and appoint its director.  The Bureau has two main units, a General Litigation Unit and a Regulatory Compliance Unit.  The General Litigation Unit handles cases involving violations of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.  The Regulatory and Compliance Unit handles cases involving enforcement of those statutes where the Bureau is a regulator or registrar such as the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act, the Health Club Act, or the Do Not Call Act, among others.

    The Charitable Trusts and Organizations Section protects the public’s interest in all property committed to charitable purposes.  Among its responsibilities, the Section oversees nonprofit corporations generally, including nonprofit mergers, conversions and acquisitions, and may seek to revoke an organization’s franchise and articles whenever it misuses, abuses or fails to use its powers and privileges correctly.

    Civil Rights Enforcement Section and Special Litigation assumes a leadership and coordination role of legal matters arising from allegations and complaints of civil rights violations.  The Section also assists the other sections in complex legal matters that are being actively litigated.  This Section works with other governmental agencies in training law enforcement and municipal governments about the requirements of state civil rights and ethnic intimidation laws.  It is authorized to:

    • Bring actions in the name of the Attorney General before the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to challenge discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations (including education institutions) on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, disability, and familial status when the case presents an important legal issue of statewide significance;
    • Obtain civil injunctions, in consultation with the local district attorney, under the Civil Redress Statute (42 Pa. C.S.A. §8309, et. seq.) against continuing acts of ethnic intimidation (18 Pa. C.S.A. §2710) and undertake or assist in other civil rights litigation pursuant to state or federal law, to the extent permitted by the Attorney General’s standing as parens patriae; and
    • Issue reports and publicize findings concerning the perpetration of hate crimes and other civil rights abuses in the Commonwealth.

    The Health Care Section mediates, investigates and takes legal action on behalf of Pennsylvania consumers against entities that engage in unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the health care industry. The Attorney General will initiate investigations that are in the public interest and will benefit the citizens of the Commonwealth.  The Health Care Section is not empowered to act as a legal representative for individuals, but mediates and investigates individual complaints.  A series of complaints about a particular health care entity, or complaints alleging deceptive practices or policies, may lead to investigations and subsequent legal action. 

    The Tobacco Enforcement Section has two important missions which flow from the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) of November 1998 settling Pennsylvania's lawsuit against the tobacco industry.  The first mission is to safeguard the Commonwealth’s annual receipt of settlement moneys.  The second mission is to police the MSA’s public health provisions.  The MSA, which was approved by Pennsylvania and 45 other states, sets forth restrictions on the advertising and marketing of tobacco products, such as the placement of tobacco products in youth-oriented advertisements or events, and provides for payments to the states as reimbursement for health-related expenditures. Those payments fund essential services specified in the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Act of 2001 (35 P.S. §5671, et. seq.). 

    To maximize those payments, the General Assembly has passed several statutes that this Section enforces.  The Tobacco Settlement Agreement Act requires tobacco product manufacturers that do not join the MSA to place money into an escrow account based on their cigarette sales within the state.  The Tobacco Product Manufacturer Directory Act (35 P.S. §5702.101, et. seq.) provides that cigarette brands can only be sold within the Commonwealth if they appear on a directory of approved brands.  The Tobacco Enforcement Section is charged with implementing those acts, including maintaining the Directory and processing applications and certifications from tobacco companies. 

    The Tobacco Enforcement Section also collaborates with local law enforcement, other state agencies, and other state Attorneys General to make tobacco laws work more effectively.  The ultimate objective of the Section is to reduce the use of tobacco, with particular emphasis on children and teens, thereby promoting the health of Pennsylvania citizens.

    The Office of Consumer Advocate was established to represent the interests of consumers before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and comparable federal agencies and focuses primarily on the interests of residential consumers in those proceedings.  Until the advent of the Office of Consumer Advocate in 1976, residential consumers often went unrepresented in utility rate and service cases because the technical knowledge and financial resources needed for utility regulatory issues could not be afforded by individual consumers.  The Consumer Advocate has the authority to appeal PUC decisions all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

    The Commonwealth Attorneys Act directs the Attorney General to appoint a Consumer Advocate subject to confirmation by a majority of the State Senate.  The Consumer Advocate acts independently in certain administrative proceedings and/or staffing matters (subject to the Attorney General’s approval).  The Consumer Advocate has a budget separate from the Attorney General’s funded by an assessment on utility companies similar to the process for funding of the Public Utility Commission.

    Click here to review the Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Law.