Suit by 3M alleges price-gouging by New Jersey company

(Photo by MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — A New Jersey company falsely claimed it was an authorized distributor of 3M products when it tried to charge New York City five to six times the regular price for personal protective equipment, 3M said in a lawsuit filed Friday.

In documents filed in the Southern District of New York, St. Paul, Minnesota-based 3M accused Performance Supply LLC of trademark infringement, deceptive practices and false advertising.

3M hasn't increased the price it charges for its respirators, the company said in the court filing, but wrote that “unsavory characters continue their quests to take advantage of healthcare workers, first responders, and others in a time of need and trade off the fame of the 3M brand and marks. Defendant is a prime example of this unlawful behavior.”

A phone number listed for Performance Supply in Manalapan, New Jersey, wasn't accepting messages on Friday. No attorney was listed for the company in the court docket.

The N95 respirator masks have become a valued commodity as the new coronavirus has swept the country and inundated hospitals and long-term care facilities. Nurses and other health care workers have taken to fashioning their own masks or accepting donations of homemade masks to protect themselves from infection.

According to the lawsuit, Performance Supply offered to sell several million N95 respirator masks to New York's Office of Citywide Procurement last month. An exhibit attached to the lawsuit shows a price quote sent to the city offering seven million masks at prices ranging from $6.05 to $6.35 per mask. 3M's suggested list price for the respirators is between $1.02 and $1.31, the company said in the suit.

To dupe city officials into thinking Performance Supply was an authorized distributor, the lawsuit says, the company used the 3M trademark throughout the price quote document and technical specification sheets.

The ruse almost worked, according to the lawsuit: in a bid evaluation document, city procurement officials referred to the company as a vendor of 3M.

An email was sent to the mayor's office seeking comment Friday.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages as well as all profits derived from the alleged scheme, which 3M said it plans to donate to COVID-19 charitable organizations.


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