Supreme Court Agrees to Review Uninjured Plaintiffs’ Lawsuit

supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court this morning granted certiorari in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robbins, a case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit involving an issue that the Court declined to address twice in the past several years: whether Congress can grant citizens the ability to file lawsuits in situations where those plaintiffs could not otherwise satisfy the “case or controversy” requirement of Article III of the U.S. Constitution.

On April 15, a WLF Legal Pulse commentary by WLF Chief Counsel Rich Samp, Supreme Court Has Opportunity to Halt Lawsuits by Uninjured Plaintiffs, explained why the Court should decline the recommendation of the Solicitor General of the U.S., which, at the Court’s invitation, had filed an amicus brief urging the justices to deny review.

Also, soon after the Court sought the views of the Solicitor General, WLF hosted a Web Seminar program on Spokeo and the issue of statutorily-created injury that featured Spokeo‘s Counsel of Record, Andrew Pincus of Mayer Brown LLP, and Meir Feder of Jones Day.

Supreme Court Has Opportunity to Halt Lawsuits by Uninjured Plaintiffs

supreme courtFederal courts have been inundated in recent years by suits filed by plaintiffs who have suffered no injury but who allege that a federal statute provides them with “standing” to sue for alleged violations of federal law. Such lawsuits can be extremely lucrative for the plaintiffs’ bar when the statute provides for an award of statutory damages (typically, $100 to $1,000) for each violation; by filing their suits as nationwide class actions, attorneys can often plausibly seek to recover billions of dollars. The Supreme Court may soon make it much more difficult for such suits to survive a motion to dismiss. The Court on Friday will consider whether to grant review in Spokeo v. Robins, a case that squarely addresses whether plaintiffs can assert Article III standing where their only “injury” is the affront to their sensibilities caused by the belief that someone is not complying federal law. The Court has indicated a strong interest in addressing the issue; Spokeo is an appropriate vehicle for doing so and ought to be granted.

The U.S. Solicitor General recently filed a brief recommending that the Court not hear Spokeo. That brief may, ironically, increase the likelihood that the Court will agree to hear the case, because the Solicitor General very pointedly declined to endorse the appeals court’s rationale for concluding that the plaintiff has standing.

Spokeo involves claims filed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), one of dozens of federal statutes that offer a bounty (in the form of statutory damages) to those who demonstrate a violation of a federal statute. Spokeo, Inc. operates a “people search engine”—it aggregates publicly available information from phone books, social networks, and other sources into a database that is searchable via the Internet, and displays the results of searches in an easy-to-read format. It has always emphasized that it does not verify or evaluate any piece of data and does not guarantee the accuracy of information offered. Continue reading

Supreme Court’s “Omnicare” Decision Follows Middle Path Advocated by Lane Powell and WLF

greeneddavisjGuest Commentary

By Douglas W. Greene and Claire Loebs Davis, Shareholders with Lane Powell PC in Seattle, Washington. They co-authored WLF’s amicus brief pro bono in Omnicare.

In the opinion issued on March 24 in Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund (“Omnicare”), the Supreme Court rejected the two extremes advocated by the parties regarding how the truth or falsity of statements of opinion should be considered under the securities laws. Instead, it adopted the middle path advocated in the amicus brief filed by Lane Powell on behalf of Washington Legal Foundation (“WLF”).

In doing so, the Court also laid out a blueprint for examining claims of falsity under the securities laws, which we believe will do for falsity analysis what Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308 (2007), did for scienter analysis. Hence, Omnicare will help defense counsel defeat claims that opinions were false or misleading in § 11 cases, as well as in cases brought under § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act. Continue reading

Update: Illinois Supreme Court Rejects Plaintiffs’ Lawyer’s Request to Remove Justice from $11 Billion Case

Ill. S CtOn March 4 in “By Treating Recusal Motions as a Game, Lawyers are Eroding Public Confidence in our Courts,” Washington Legal Foundation’s Chief Counsel Rich Samp wrote about the corrosive effect of plaintiffs’ lawyers’ demands that unfriendly judges be recused from hearing their cases. Much of the commentary centered around the multiple motions plaintiffs’ lawyers in a case called Price v. Philip Morris filed to recuse Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier from participating in the lawyers’ request to re-open that court’s 2005 decision.

As reported yesterday in Legal Newsline, the state high court denied the most recent request to disqualify Justice Karmeier from the Price case on March 11. The Court has yet to rule on the request to re-open the case.

WLF Web Seminar Explores New General Personal Jurisdiction Arguments under SCOTUS’s “Bauman” Ruling

Litigating away from “Home”: General Personal Jurisdiction One Year after the Supreme Court’s Daimler AG v. Bauman Decision

Mr. Beck utilized a PowerPoint slide presentation. The archive of the program, which includes a viewable version of the slides, is available at WLF’s website here.  If you would prefer to watch the video above, a PDF of the slides are available here.

Related materials on Daimler AG v. Bauman and its application in civil litigation:

New Jersey High Court Confirms Proper Test for Defining “Independent Contractor”

body_TabakmanMEGuest Commentary

by Mark E. Tabakman, Fox Rothschild LLP

A November 2014 I authored for Washington Legal Foundation, New Jersey Supreme Court Set to Rule on Definition of “Independent Contractor”, analyzed questions that had been certified to the New Jersey Supreme Court on whether an individual was an independent contractor under New Jersey wage-hour laws. My reading of the tea leaves was that the Court would adopt the test already engrafted into the New Jersey Unemployment Law. That is in fact what the Court did.

On January 14, 2015, the Court in Hargrove v Sleepy’s, LLC (“Hargrove”) (Dkt. No. A-70-12) resolved the issue of when an individual may be properly classified as an independent contractor under the New Jersey Wage Payment Act (“WPA”) and the New Jersey Wage Hour Law (“WHL”) and held that the “ABC” test governs. Under the ABC test, services performed by an individual are deemed to be employment unless the following is shown:

(a) that the individual has been and will continue to be free from control…;

(b) that the services provided are either outside the usual course of business…or performed outside of all the places of business of the enterprise…; and,

(c) that the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business.

The Court noted that both of New Jersey’s wage and hour laws neither defined “employee” or “independent contractor” nor set forth the standards to be utilized in such analyses. The Court then examined the plain language of the laws and the implementing regulations of both laws, and concluded that deference should be given to the position of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“NJDOL”), as it was the Agency charged with interpreting and enforcing these laws. On that basis, the Court concluded that the same test, under both laws, should be utilized to determine whether or not an employment relationship existed.

In holding that the ABC test governs, the Court rejected the common law “right to control” test and the “economic realities” test because the “right to control” test, as the Court noted, is incompatible with the legislature’s goal of ensuring economic security and the “economic realities” test, as the Court noted, could lead to inconsistent results.

By requiring that each element be satisfied, the ABC test (which NJDOL supports and utilizes) facilitated, as the Court explained, “greater income security” for workers—the underlying purpose of both laws at issue. The ABC test presumes that an employment relationship exists and places the burden on the employer to prove differently. The last prong (i.e. independently established business), is where the issue is joined most of the time and where (often) most of the cases flounder for the putative employer. Accordingly, the Hargrove decision has decidedly and emphatically increased the coverage and protection of New Jersey’s wage and hour laws in favor of “employees.”

Businesses in New Jersey that presently utilize or are considering use of independent contractors would be well advised to work with experienced employment counsel to ensure compliance with the Court’s holding.

A Key Ruling for Food Labeling Class Action Defendants Issued on “Reasonable Consumer” Standard

Smith_JamesGuest Commentary

by James D. Smith, Bryan Cave LLP

In what seems likely to become a defining case on appeal, Northern District of California Judge Lucy Koh granted summary judgment this week in a long-running food labeling class action. The plaintiff in Brazil v. Dole Packaged Foods, LLC, No. 12-CV-01831-LHK (N.D. Cal.), alleges that 10 Dole products are misbranded because their labels say the products contain “All Natural Fruit.” Mr. Brazil contends this is false because the products contain ascorbic acid (commonly known as Vitamin C) and citric acid (found in citrus). Both of those ingredients, of course, are naturally occurring compounds; many food manufacturers add them because of their natural preservative effects. The 10 products include diced apples, pears, oranges, and grapefruit packed in juice. For the past two years, Mr. Brazil and his counsel have pressed this litigation, alleging that the product labels somehow deceived him because neither he nor any other reasonable consumer would believe that fruit packed in juice contains Vitamin C or citric acid.

The procedural history is long, but readers interested in food labeling class actions in the Northern District of California may want to review Judge Koh’s earlier substantive rulings. By the time she granted summary judgment on December 8, Judge Koh had narrowed the case to a single injunction class. As an aside, Judge Koh’s November 6, 2014, order decertifying the damages class nicely shows why a hedonic damages regression analysis—which many food labeling class action plaintiffs try to rely on to show class-wide damages—isn’t feasible in these types of cases. This most recent ruling in Brazil is noteworthy because it explains that a named plaintiff’s subjective interpretation of a label isn’t sufficient to meet the burden of proving that the label is likely to mislead consumers under California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”).

Granting summary judgment, Judge Koh concluded “there is insufficient evidence that the ‘All Natural Fruit’ label statement on the challenged Dole products was likely to mislead reasonable consumers and that the label statements were therefore unlawful on that basis.” That plaintiff did not attempt to use consumer surveys to establish that the labeling statements could mislead a significant portion of the public or of targeted consumers. Instead, he relied on informal FDA statements that “natural” means nothing artificial or synthetic “has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.” (Emphasis added.) As we’ll see, that plaintiff’s failure to establish that consumers would not normally expect ascorbic acid or citric acid to be in the food doomed his claims. Continue reading