Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing Family Dollar Stores Inc. and Dollar Tree of selling potentially unsafe or contaminated products due to exposure to a rodent infestation at its Arkansas distribution center. West Memphis.

The lawsuit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court, states that Family Dollar made significant profits while knowingly exposing consumers to potentially unsafe or contaminated products by allowing and failing to prevent mass rodent infestations and pests. unsanitary conditions with the distribution center.

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, restitution and civil penalties through Arkansas’ deceptive trade practices.

Shannon Halijan, assistant in the attorney general’s public protection department, said the office plans to seek a fine of $10,000 per product distributed from the warehouse during the two-year period that the rodent infestation happened.

“Each individual package of pasta, each individual package of potatoes could be fined $10,000 for Family Dollar and Dollar Tree,” Rutledge said at a press conference Thursday.

The Attorney General also encouraged consumers who may have obtained contaminated products to contact her office and file complaints.

The lawsuit also seeks suspension or revocation of Family Dollar’s ability to do business in Arkansas. The company has 85 stores in the state.

“If they can’t get their rat problem under control, then that’s what we’ll pursue,” Halijan said.

Rutledge said the bureau generally gives companies time to correct their practices before seeking to wind down operations.

“We know that Family Dollar and other small stores across the state are dedicated to providing medicine, necessities, food and other items to Arkansans, especially in rural areas, we so we don’t want to wipe out a source of groceries or medicine,” Rutledge says. “But if those groceries and those drugs aren’t safe, then we need someone else to provide those services.”

Complaint says Family Dollar, under parent company Dollar Tree Inc., had been aware of the rodent infestation for years but allowed the dangerous products to be sold at hundreds of stores in Arkansas and five others. states in the region.

“Like many of you, I was horrified some time ago when I learned of the rodent infestation at Family Dollar’s West Memphis distribution center,” Rutledge said. “Since at least January 2020, Family Dollar has been aware of the massive and long-lasting rodent infestation.”

Rodent contamination can cause salmonella and infectious diseases, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said earlier this year when recommending consumers throw away all drugs, medical devices, cosmetics and dietary supplements purchased from stores. concerned. The agency’s alert related to products purchased in stores since January 2021.

“Family Dollar has known about this dangerous and massive rodent infestation for more than two years, but they have continued to sell and profit from potentially contaminated merchandise,” Rutledge said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “Consumers lost money and could have lost their lives.”

The West Memphis distribution center at 1800 Family Dollar Parkway opened in the mid-1990s with approximately 850,000 square feet, according to the company’s website.

The Arkansas Department of Health inspected the distribution center multiple times in 2021, according to documents filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court. During an on-site inspection on March 3, 2021, inspectors reported seeing significant rodent activity where human and pet food was stored.

Detectives also noted that members of Family Dollar management said they were aware of the rodent problem, according to court documents. On April 2, 2021, Arkansas Department of Health inspectors reported that no effective action was being taken to stop the infestation.

“The Department of Health at the time did not have the authority to shut down this facility and take action against it, and please keep in mind that during this time the Department of Health was in the midst of a pandemic and was extremely short-staffed,” Rutledge says.

The US Food and Drug Administration alert earlier this year cited unsanitary conditions at the distribution facility and said the rodent infestation could have potentially contaminated products sent to six states.

FDA inspectors discovered live rodents, rodent droppings, and dead rodents in “various states of decomposition” during an inspection of the facility, according to their report. Foul odors – indicative of a rotting animal carcass – also came from several locations in the distribution center, according to the report.

Investigators found rats climbing scaffolding and reported a foul odor in a pallet of clothes and clothing, according to the report. Next to this pallet was a separate pallet that contained rodent droppings on boxes.

Investigators also found rodent droppings on a pallet of flour and reported that two mice had climbed out of bags of produce that had been gnawed on, according to the report.

“Your company has not implemented appropriate and timely corrective actions to ensure that the product which may be harmful to health due to potential contamination with rodent urine and feces and/or has been chewed or gnawed by rodents, or may have been subjected to filthy conditions such as in the form of dirt and debris, has not been distributed to your stores,” the report said.

Investigators also noted that Family Dollar had no system to track store reports of potentially contaminated products received by the distribution facility.

During a fire drill at the distribution facility in October 2021, dozens of rats were seen running around because of the loud alarm, according to a general manager.

That same month, the company abandoned a break room and a control room because of the foul stench of rodents, according to the report. The FDA report describes a “putrid odor” emanating from the control center. After fumigating the facility, more than 1,100 dead rodents were recovered, officials said.

“No one should be subjected to products stored under the kind of unacceptable conditions we found at this Family Dollar distribution facility,” Judith McMeekin, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said in February. United States.

Rutledge said Thursday that a review of internal company records indicated the collection of more than 2,300 rodents from March 29 to September 17, 2021.

“Not only was there an infestation of rats, but there were birds, insects and other vermin inside the facility,” she said.

Family Dollar issued a voluntary recall in February of particular items sold after January 1, 2021 at hundreds of stores across Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

“The other states may act as well,” Rutledge said, “but we will look at the facility itself and the 85 stores in Arkansas.”

Shannon Halijan (right), deputy in the state Department of Public Safety, speaks at Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s press conference on Thursday announcing the lawsuit against Family Dollar Store. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)