A Value Village store seen Dec. 12, 2017, in Edmonds, Washington. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s long-running legal case against the thrift store chain Savers Value Village turned out to be no bargain, as the state was ordered on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023, to pay the company nearly $4.3 million in legal fees. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

A Value Village store seen Dec. 12, 2017, in Edmonds, Washington. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s long-running legal case against the thrift store chain Savers Value Village turned out to be no bargain, as the state was ordered on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023, to pay the company nearly $4.3 million in legal fees. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Washington’s legal fees top $4.2M in failed lawsuit against Value Village

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s legal case against the thrift store chain turned out to be no bargain.

  • By Wire Service
  • Thursday, October 19, 2023 3:50pm
  • Northwest

By Gene Johnson / Associated Press

SEATTLE — Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s long-running legal case against the thrift store chain Savers Value Village turned out to be no bargain, as the state has been ordered to pay the company nearly $4.3 million in legal fees.

King County Superior Court Judge David Whedbee issued the award on Tuesday, eight months after the state Supreme Court unanimously rejected the attorney general’s claims that marketing practices by the thrift store chain were deceptive. The judge called the state’s lawsuit “needless.”

“Defending and fully prevailing in this lawsuit was burdensome and costly,” Richard Medway, Savers Value Village general counsel, said in an emailed statement. “But the result underscored the many positive aspects of our unique business model, which benefits the environment, consumers, and our many nonprofit partners.”

Savers Value Village, which is based in Bellevue, Washington, and operates more than 300 stores in the U.S., Canada and Australia, said it would donate more than $1 million of the award to charities.

The attorney general’s office began investigating the company in late 2014 and, after Savers Value Village declined to pay millions of dollars to settle the investigation, Ferguson — a Democrat who is now running for governor — sued.

The state alleged that the thrift chain had created an impression that it was a nonprofit or charitable organization and that purchases at its stores directly benefited charities.

In reality, it’s a for-profit company that pays charitable organizations for donated goods, but it does not provide the charities a direct cut of retail sales. Savers Value Village paid $580 million to charitable partners globally in the five years ending in 2022 and kept 3.2 billion pounds of goods out of landfills, the company said.

Two of the major charities it works with in Washington — Northwest Center, which supports people with disabilities, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound — had urged the attorney general’s office to drop the case.

While commercial speech is given less protection than other messages under the First Amendment, Savers Value Village’s marketing was so wrapped up in promoting the charities it worked with that its practices were entitled to full constitutional protection, the Supreme Court ruled in February.

Ferguson’s office urged the judge not to award any legal fees, arguing that doing so would chill the office from bringing difficult consumer protection cases.

Whedbee said the attorney general’s office acted in good faith, but the way the office handled the case — including ignoring requests by the company’s attorneys to figure out what it was supposedly doing wrong — had drawn out the matter and run up legal costs for the company.

In an emailed statement, Brionna Aho, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the lawsuit helped educate the public about the company’s for-profit status and prompted Savers Value Village to make some changes.

The company agreed to register as a commercial fundraiser, after previously being told by the secretary of state’s office that it did not need to. By 2015 it also posted signs in its stores disclosing its status as a for-profit commercial fundraiser and had employees make periodic in-store announcements to that effect.

Aho said the case was the first the attorney general’s consumer protection division had lost since at least 2012, and that no taxpayer money would be used to pay the legal fees. Instead, the money will come from a reserve account kept in case of adverse legal judgments, which is funded by awards from successful cases brought by the attorney general.

The state’s public interest litigation recovered more than $1.3 billion last year alone, she said.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

A suspected gas explosion on Wednesday destroyed a house in the 19700 block of 25TH DR SE in Bothell, Washington. (Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue)
After a newly bought Bothell house exploded, experts urge caution

The owners had closed on their purchase of the house just two days earlier. No one was hurt in the explosion.

The Lynnwood City Council work session on Monday evening, parents and community members expressed concerns about the proximity of a new opioid treatment facility to two youth clubs on January 9, 2023 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Kayla Dunn / The Herald)
In Lynnwood, opioid treatment center sparked outcry amid need for treatment

After a second clinic tried to open, the City Council decided to stop accepting applications for new clinics for six months.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Crime, taxes and artificial intelligence on tap as WA lawmakers prep for session

Upcoming hearings offer a preview of issues legislators will encounter when they convene in January.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz (right), state Sen. T’wina Nobles and Smokey Bear pose in front of a proposed speciality license plate in a Pierce County fire station on Nov. 20, 2023. If approved, Franz said proceeds from sales of the plates will go to public education programs focused on wildfire prevention. (Jerry Cornfield/Washington State Standard)
Only you (almost) can put Smokey Bear on Washington license plates

A proposal calls for putting the iconic bear on a specialty plate, but it will require public support and approval from lawmakers.

Starbucks workers and allies participate in a strike and picket organized by Starbucks Workers United during the company's Red Cup Day Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, at a location near Pike Place Market in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
Starbucks workers in Everett, Marysville join national strike

Hundreds of Starbucks union workers at 15 locations across Washington joined the one-day strike.

Sen. June Robinson (D-Everett) speaks during a Healthcare Summit at Everett Community College on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
State hauls in nearly $900M from first year of capital gains tax

Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, anticipates many conversations on how to spend it.

The view from the top of Index Town Wall in Spring 2021. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Climbers purchase 20 acres of famed climbing walls in Index

Climbing groups bought the parcel Monday, including Lower Lump and Inner Walls, calling it “the final big piece of the puzzle.”

Ferries pass on a crossing between Mukilteo and Whidbey Island. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)
Most WA transportation services back online following cyberattack

The department was still investigating the cyberattack and could not say Friday what caused it.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz watches as a team works to remove old toxic pilings from the water as part of larger salmon restoration plan near Ebey Waterfront Park in Marysville, Washington on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Washington Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz drops out of governor’s race

In an announcement Friday, Franz said she decided instead to run to replace retiring Rep. Derek Kilmer who serves the 6th Congressional District.

Two Washington State ferries pass along the route between Mukilteo and Clinton as scuba divers swim near the shore Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Cyberattack crashes WA transportation websites

Traffic cams and ferry tracking are among the services that the incident took down.

Senator Marko Liias speaks at the ground breaking of the Swift Orange Line on Tuesday, April 19, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Traffic deaths are down in Finland. Edmonds senator is going to find out how

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, will be part of the contingent making the trip in December.

Fentanyl-laced pills — made to look like prescription oxycodone — were seized by law enforcement during a 2021 investigation into drug trafficking in Snohomish County. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)
‘We’re burying them every week’: Tribes call on Inslee to declare opioid emergency

American Indian and Alaska Native residents have the highest death rates from opioid overdoses of any racial or ethnic group in Washington.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.