Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has filed a lawsuit against retailer Family Dollar for selling potentially harmful or contaminated products following a massive rodent infestation at its West Memphis distribution center. The complaint alleges that Family Dollar, under the parent company Dollar Tree Inc., knew about the rodent infestation for years but allowed unsafe products to be sold at hundreds of stores in Arkansas and five other states throughout the region. Rutledge is seeking punitive damages, restitution and civil penalties through the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act to protect the health, safety and economic well-being of tens of thousands of Arkansas consumers who purchased or used the affected products sold by Family Dollar.
“In many rural communities in Arkansas, families rely on discount stores like Family Dollar for essential products such as food, medicine or pet food,” said Rutledge in an official statement. “Family Dollar has had knowledge of this dangerous and massive rodent infestation for over two years, yet they continued to sell and profit from potentially contaminated goods. Consumers lost money and could have lost their lives.”
Reports from state and federal health inspectors show that Family Dollar had knowledge of its rodent infestation since at least Jan. 2020. In March 2021, the Arkansas Department of Health inspected the West Memphis Distribution Center where inspectors reported seeing “significant rodent activity where human food and pet food were stored” and management stated that they were aware of the rodent issues. In April 2021, state health inspectors reported that effective measures were not being taken to stop the rodent infestation. Following notices from the Arkansas Department of Health and consumer complaints, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began an investigation in Jan. 2022 of the West Memphis Distribution Center.
In March 2022, the FDA issued a safety alert regarding the Distribution center, which stated in part:
“Conditions observed during the inspection included live rodents, dead rodents in various states of decay, rodent feces and urine, evidence of gnawing, nesting and rodent odors throughout the facility, dead birds and bird droppings, and products stored in conditions that did not protect against contamination. More than 1,100 dead rodents were recovered from the facility following a fumigation at the facility in January 2022. Additionally, a review of the company’s internal records also indicated the collection of more than 2,300 rodents between Mar. 29  and Sep. 17, 2021, demonstrating a history of infestation.”
Contaminated products included human foods, animal foods, cosmetics, medical devices and over-the-counter medications for both adults and children. Following the FDA’s investigation announcement, Family Dollar issued a “voluntary recall” and was forced to temporarily close 404 stores, including 85 Arkansas stores, so that hazardous and contaminated products could be removed from its shelves. Family Dollar’s control intentionally allowed and resulted in the long-lasting and massive rodent infestation at the West Memphis Distribution Center, and the selling of tens of millions of dollars of hazardous and contaminated products to Arkansas citizens.
Rutledge filed the lawsuit in the Pulaski County Circuit Court. Each ADTPA violation is subject to a fine of up to $10,000.