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March 5, 10

NEWS / Attorney General Files Suit Against Oil Heating Company

NEWARK ¨C Attorney General Paula T. Dow and the Division of Consumer Affairs have filed suit against an oil company after it failed to deliver heating oil to residential and commercial customers throughout northern New Jersey.

The state¡¯s two-count Complaint, filed in State Superior Court in Morris County, alleges that Able Oil Co. of Rockaway and its corporate parent, Able Energy, Inc. (¡°Able¡±) violated the state¡¯s Consumer Fraud Act in failing to fulfill the contracts it had with customers. The customers either pre-paid for oil to be delivered to their residences or businesses throughout the winter or had entered into a monthly payment plan for oil deliveries.

¡°Able¡¯s customers were left to fend for themselves, and make their own arrangements to obtain heating oil and keep their families warm, when the company abruptly stopped making deliveries,¡± Attorney General Dow said. ¡°These customers were literally left out in the cold, during one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record.¡±

The state¡¯s lawsuit seeks restitution for affected consumers, plus the assessment of civil penalties, attorneys¡¯ fees and costs against the defendants. An initial violation of the Consumer Fraud Act carries a civil penalty of up to $10,000, with additional violations assessed at up to $20,000.

The Division of Consumer Affairs has received more than 60 consumer complaints to date against Able. All of the complaints were received since February 1, after Able failed to make oil deliveries and also failed to respond to calls from its customers.

¡°These defendants put their customer¡¯s health and safety at risk,¡± said Sharon Joyce, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. ¡°Each winter, we hear of the consequences of vulnerable New Jersey residents using propane and kerosene heaters, and even charcoal grills, inside their homes as they attempt to keep warm.¡±

The state alleges that Able violated the Consumer Fraud Act by committing unconscionable commercial practices and by making false promises or misrepresentations, which include the following:

¡öFailing to deliver the contracted-for heating oil to Budget Plan Consumers (i.e. no delivery or inadequate delivery), yet continuing to charge their credit cards or electronically debit their bank accounts for the monthly installment payments;
¡öFailing to deliver the contracted for heating oil to Pre-Purchase Consumers (i.e. no delivery or inadequate delivery);
¡öMaking minimal deliveries of heating oil (i.e. 20 gallons), then failing to make any further deliveries;
¡öFailing to provide Budget Plan Consumers and Pre-Purchase Consumers who were enrolled in the Automatic Delivery Program with an automatic delivery of heating oil;
¡öFailing to deliver heating oil to Budget Plan Consumers and Pre-Purchase Consumers, which resulted in damage to their heating systems;
¡öFailing to provide emergency and/or other service and repairs to consumers¡¯ heating systems, in accordance with the terms of their Service Agreements;
¡öFailing to provide contracted-for heating oil, thus requiring consumers to purchase oil from other fuel companies;
¡öRepresenting that consumers enrolled in the Automatic Delivery Program, including Budget Plan Consumers and Pre-Purchase Consumers will receive automatic deliveries of heating oil, when such is not the case; and
¡öMisrepresenting to consumers who ran out of heating oil that a delivery would be made.

Deputy Attorneys General Alina Wells and Lorraine K. Rak, Chief of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section, are representing the state in this action.




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