[JURIST] New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey filed lawsuits Monday against Hess [corporate website; PDF complaint], Shell [corporate website; PDF complaint], and Sunoco [corporate website; PDF complaint], alleging that the oil and gas giants and several independent gas-station owners illegally hiked prices in the days surrounding Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive]. The separate suits, believed to be the first civil actions in the US responding to recent rising gasoline prices, allege [NJ AG press release] that the companies violated New Jersey's Motor Fuels Act [text] and Consumer Fraud Act [text] by failing to display sale prices and making multiple price increases within a 24-hour period. The defendants are also charged with failure to maintain books and records, failure to provide access to books and records to regulators, engaging in unconscionable commercial practices and violating advertising regulations. The cases arose after widespread complaints from motorists that some dealers were raising gas prices several times a day. The state will also sue several independently-owned Citgo [corporate website] stations. Violations of the Consumer Fraud Act, which include unconscionable commercial practices and false or misleading advertising, carry a penalty of up to $10,000 for a first offense and up to $20,000 for subsequent offenses. Violations of the Motor Fuels Act carry a $50 to $200 penalty. Harvey said the state is taking a hard-line approach because consumers are at the mercy of gasoline suppliers and retailers. The Newark Star Ledger has more.