April 19, 2024

Arkansas is suing Family Dollar over the discovery of more than 1,000 dead rodents in a distribution facility in the state that prompted the discount retail chain to recall items purchased from hundreds of stores in the South.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in state court, accuses the chain and parent company Dollar General of deceiving consumers, negligence and engaging in a conspiracy that allowed the infestation at the West Memphis facility to occur.

Family Dollar closed more than 400 stores in February after the dead rats were found at one of its distribution facilities. Details of the infestation were later disclosed in a 22-page U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspection report, such as problems ranging from “four rat carcasses on the conveyor belt” to rodent droppings “too numerous to count.” 

The FDA said in the report that Family Dollar had been aware of the presence of rats in the warehouse since at least January 2020. The lawsuit singles out Family Dollar’s knowledge of rats in the warehouse long before it recalled products, noting that the company “chose not to disclose this information to Arkansas consumers but continued to profit from the sales of its goods.”

“This misconduct by Family Dollar Stores and Dollar Tree allowed them to maximize profits, while causing Arkansas citizens to purchase hazardous, adulterated and contaminated products,” the lawsuit said.

Dead rodents and birds

The FDA said in February that it had inspected the distribution facility following a consumer complaint. Inside the building, inspectors said they found not only dead rodents but live rats as well, rodent feces, dead birds and bird droppings.

The warehouse’s problems are “concerning” because consumers “rightfully want basic hygiene and safety standards to be adhered to,” said retail expert Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData, said in a March report.

A Dollar Tree spokesman did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.

After fumigating the facility, more than 1,100 dead rodents were recovered, officials said. Family Dollar issued a temporary recall and closed more than 400 stores in six states — Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee — so numerous products that had been at the facility could be removed from shelves. Family Dollar in February said it was not aware of any illnesses related to the recall.

Arkansas’ lawsuit seeks up to $10,000 for each violation of the state’s deceptive trade practices act that’s proven at trial, punitive damages and restitution for all consumers affected by the contamination. In her lawsuit, Rutledge also asks a state judge to suspend or revoke Family Dollar’s authorization to do business in the state.

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