Luskin's Inc. can go ahead with a sales promotion offering certificates for airfare and discounted hotel rates, a Harford Circuit judge has ruled, rejecting a finding by the state attorney general's office that the promotion violated Maryland law.
Judge Cypert O. Whitfill said in a written opinion filed Friday that the retailer's proposed ads are neither unfair nor deceptive, as the attorney general's office had concluded.
The judge added that the state attorney general's interpretation of the law was so broad that even Cracker Jacks would be illegal because the free prize was unrelated to the sale of caramel-coated popcorn.
"Carried to its logical conclusion, offering a free warranty with the purchase of a product would be prohibited," the judge said.
"With all respect to the court, we obviously disagree with the decision," said William Leibovici, chief of the Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general's office.
The Consumer Protection Division told Luskin's July 27 to stop its sales promotion offering free airfare to Florida, the Bahamas or Hawaii if consumers bought merchandise worth at least $200.
Luskin's discontinued that campaign, but presented a modified version to the attorney general's office for review and approval Aug. 27. Luskin's principal change was dropping the word "free," because customers ultimately paid for the hotels.
The Consumer Protection Division still held that the proposed ads violated state law and threatened legal action if Luskin's ran them. At that point, Judge Whitfill said, Luskin's had no choice but to abandon the ads or challenge the attorney general's interpretation in court.
The attorney general's office, he said, had admitted promising Luskin's it would not prosecute if June's ads were stopped, but then began administrative proceedings after Luskin's filed its complaint in court.
At a Nov. 13 administrative hearing, the attorney general's office contended that Luskin's required customers to buy $200 worth of merchandise from the retailer to get free travel certificates. Then, to redeem the certificates, travelers had to make hotel and other arrangements through the Florida-based Vacation Ventures Inc., at costs of $470 to $1,875.
The attorney general's office also claimed Luskin's failed to disclose the full terms and "complicated" conditions placed on the certificates.