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People's Counsel Seeks Order Directing Retail Supplier To Cease Telephonic Solicitations

Show Cause Complaint Prompted By Alleged Telemarketing Call From Supplier To Deputy People's Counsel Containing Alleged Violations

June 5, 2020

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Copyright 2010-20
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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The Maryland Office of People’s Counsel (OPC) petitioned the Maryland PSC to issue an order directing SunSea Energy, LLC to, among other things, cease telephone solicitations in Maryland and to show cause and answer various alleged violations of consumer protection regulations

OPC specifically sought an order:

1) directing SunSea to immediately cease telephone solicitations in Maryland or, in the alternative to immediately cease any solicitation that indicates that the representative is calling on behalf of a utility;

2) directing SunSea to immediately cease enrolling any customers without a signed contract;

3) directing SunSea to maintain all records, including all recordings of telephone calls, regarding telephone solicitations of Maryland customers by the Company or any of its vendors;

4) directing SunSea to satisfy the complaint within twenty (20) days by answering the allegations contained therein and providing evidence showing just cause as to why its license to provide electricity and electricity supply services should not be suspended or revoked or, in the alternative, why the Company should not be precluded from soliciting additional customers and why SunSea should not be subject to a civil penalty under Sections 7-507 and 13-201 of the Public Utilities Article ('PUA') of the Annotated Code of Maryland for allegedly committing fraud, allegedly engaging in deceptive marketing and enrollment practices, and for allegedly failing to comply with the PUA, the Maryland Telephone Solicitation Act (Md. Code Ann., Comm. Law ('CL') § 14-2201 et seq.), the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (CL § 13-101 et seq.), and the Commission's consumer protection regulations contained in COMAR 20.59.07 and 20.53.07;

5) directing SunSea to respond to certain questions in its answer to this complaint; and should the Commission determine there is a genuine dispute of material fact, open an investigation into the business practices of SunSea to determine whether there is a pattern and practice of violations.

Among other things, OPC alleged in its complaint that:

• "At approximately 12:30 p.m. on May 14, 2020, the Company called William Fields, a resident of Baltimore County, Maryland ('the First Call'). The Company claimed to be calling from 'the BGE Verification Department,' in an effort to obtain Mr. Fields as a customer through means of deception." Fields serves as Deputy People’s Counsel

• "As a part of that deception, the Company informed Mr. Fields that he was eligible for a $50 rebate because he paid his Baltimore Gas and Electric ('BGE') bill on time for the last six months."

• "The representative already had Mr. Fields’ BGE Electric Choice ID number, and asked for his Gas Choice ID number, stating that it would double his benefits. When asked, the representative stated that the benefits were from BGE."

• "At no point during the First Call did the representative inform Mr. Fields that he worked for a third-party supplier separate and distinct from BGE."

• "At no time during the First Call did the SunSea representative describe any other terms of the agreement."

OPC alleged that Mr. Fields went through a verification process with SunSea over the phone

OPC alleged, "On May 21, SunSea initiated a switch of Mr. Fields’s electricity service to SunSea to begin on May 27, 2020, and a switch of Mr. Fields’s natural gas service to begin on June 1."

OPC alleged, "At the time SunSea initiated a switch of Mr. Fields’s electric and gas service, the Company had not provided Mr. Fields with a contract, contract summary form, or any other documentation of any sort."

OPC alleged, "On May 29, Mr. Fields received two letters from SunSea Energy ... One letter is regarding Mr. Fields’s electric service and one letter is regarding Mr. Fields’s natural gas service. Neither letter asks Mr. Fields to sign a contract and return the document to the company."

As has been previously reported by, the Maryland Telephone Solicitation Act requires that customers of various industries solicited via telephone must sign a written agreement to create a valid contract. While there are certain exceptions to the wet signature requirement, none of the exceptions are generally applicable to cold calling. OPC said that Mr. Fields does not have any prior business relationship with SunSea Energy

OPC alleged, "The letters sent to Mr. Fields contain terms that were not disclosed during the phone calls or contradict information provided during the phone calls. For example, during the phone calls, Mr. Fields was told there would be savings on his electricity bill. However, the initial rate indicated in the letter is 12.99 cents per kwh. This rate was not disclosed during the telephone calls."

"As of the date of filing, Mr. Fields has not received a written contract from SunSea, or any request for his signature," OPC alleged

OPC alleged that SunSea’s actions as alleged above constitute numerous violations of Maryland law and regulations, including:

• PUA §7-507(k)(3), COMAR, and COMAR (A)(2) by intentionally providing false information and engaging in deceptive practices

• MTSA [Maryland Telephone Solicitation Act] §14-2203, PUA §7-507(k)(3), COMAR, and COMAR by enrolling a customer by deception and without meeting the minimum contracting requirements of COMAR and COMAR

• MTSA §14-2203 (b) (1), COMAR, and COMAR by failing to reduce the contract to writing signed by the consumer

• MTSA §14-2203(b)(6), COMAR, and COMAR by failing to include the oral representations made in connection with the transaction in a written contract

• COMAR and COMAR by failing to provide a contract of any sort prior to enrollment

• COMAR and COMAR by failing to provide a contract summary of any sort prior to enrollment

"OPC has reason to believe these types of marketing and contracting actions by SunSea, which are in violation of MD law and regulations, as described above, extend to customers or potential customers other than Mr. Fields," OPC alleged

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