Minnesota lawmakers Rep. Kelly Fenton, (R-Woodbury) and Rep. Tony Albright, (R-Prior Lake) have written a letter to Governor Mark Dayton that expresses their disapproval of Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC) Commissioner Michael Rothman and his decision that they said violated Safelite’s first amendment right.
The Minnesota DOC had asserted that Safelite was deceiving its customers by using the words “may be” in reference to possible balance billing customers for using out of network vendors. DOC had also issued an order compelling Safelite to disclose to customers that they have the right to choose any vendor they wish, as well as prohibiting the company from influencing the customer to choose a particular auto glass vendor. Safelite responded by filing a lawsuit against the Department in April 2015, saying there is no evidence to suggest customers have been misled. In January 2017, the court ruled in favor of Safelite.
In the letter sent February 27, the lawmakers rail against Rothman, who they say handled the case unfairly and engaged in inappropriate dealings with Safelite competitors in order to benefit them. The letter states that the judge’s order to conduct the investigation of the company was a blatant violation of its rights with the sole purpose of providing confidential investigation information to Safelite competitors for their benefit.
“Safelite’s competitors even testified that an assistant commissioner made a ‘deal’ to provide information on Safelite in order to ‘get Safelite out of Minnesota.’ The department’s misbehavior was so egregious that the court questioned the department’s purported interest in preventing consumer deception,” the letter reads.
The letter also outlines the DOC’s alleged abuse of power, saying the Department believed it had the right to endlessly drag the trial out and continually investigate Safelite without proper cause, and its utter disregard for limits on the Department’s reach. The letter concludes by stating that the Department does not work within the confines of the law and does not have the taxpayer’s interest at heart.
However, Rothman eventually responded stating, “[DOC’s job is] to stand up for consumers and small businesses in Minnesota, and we thought Safelite was steering business to the larger insurance companies and was not complying with regulations,” said Rothman, according to ABC 6 News report on March 1st 2017.
“The Governor needs to take action,” says Rep. Fenton. “After reading the decision of the court, the abuse is evident. We need to crack down on agency abuse,” she added. Rep. Fenton says that she was prompted to write the letter as the court’s decision will directly affect the taxpayer and drive away business.
The lawmakers further contend in the letter that the actions of the Commerce Department go beyond the Safelite case. “Court opinions and other legal filings published in the past several months have afforded Minnesotans a stark look at the internal operations of the Minnesota Department of Commerce,” the letter states. “They paint a disturbing picture of dubious motivation and disregard for the law, in which the good work of public servants is overshadowed by the inappropriate behavior of a few high-level officials. These conclusions come not just from adverse parties, but from state and federal judges of high regard.”