Food-Court Follies: Judge Grates Parmesan-Cheese Multidistrict Litigation

parma cheeseThanks to America’s regrettably litigious nature, the “Reasonable Person” is always busy. This prototypically average, ordinary human being is routinely called upon in legal disputes governed by common-law tort principles and asked: What would you think or do in this situation? One strain of litigation—consumer-fraud class actions—has kept the Reasonable Person especially occupied in recent years.

A recent court case asked the Reasonable Person to put on her “reasonable consumer” hat and determine the meaning of the term “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” as it appears on containers of shelf-stable, processed shaky cheese.

In February 2016, inspired by overblown media stories, 15 lawsuits were filed in 6 different courts against 7 defendants (Kraft Heinz Co., Albertsons Cos., Target Corp., Wal-Mart Stores, ICCO-Cheese Co., and Publix Super Markets) alleging common-law and statutory violations for those companies’ false or misleading use of that statement. Continue reading

Florida Supreme Court, Casting Separation of Powers Aside, Invalidates Medical Malpractice Damages Limits

Andy-Bolin-Color-HiRes-420x280Guest Commentary

By Andrew S. Bolin, Beytin, McLaughlin, McLaughlin, O’Hara, Bocchino & Bolin, P.A.

In 2003, the Florida Legislature undertook the arduous task of examining the impact of medical malpractice lawsuits in the State of Florida. Governor Jeb Bush appointed a Select Task Force on Healthcare Professional Liability Insurance that consisted of a distinguished group of non-partisan scholars and public servants, including the former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President Clinton. Over one regular and four special sessions, Florida’s Legislature reviewed over 1,600 sworn affidavits from medical providers, heard hundreds of hours of testimony during public hearings, and analyzed empirical evidence provided by those studying the issues.

The results of this rigorous undertaking were shocking. Four-hundred Broward County physicians cited the soaring costs of medical malpractice insurance as a reason they left the state or retired early. The task force pointed to examples of obstetrical centers closing due to increased premiums and residency graduates being forced to practice outside of Florida because they were unable to obtain or afford malpractice insurance. In 2003, 80% percent of obstetricians in Miami stated that they had been forced to practice without the protection of malpractice insurance. Ten percent of OB/GYNs in Orlando chose to leave the practice. Continue reading

Ambiguity Eclipses Clarity in Two Post-“Spokeo” Standing-to-Sue Decisions

9thCirIn addition to an America-only total solar eclipse, August has brought us a remarkable flurry of significant federal appeals court decisions. Among those decisions were two that addressed a hotly contested procedural issue: plaintiff’s standing to sue for violation of a federal statute.

The rulings, both of which interpreted and applied the 2016 US Supreme Court Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins decision, further clarified that decision’s main holding while also exacerbating the confusion over what constitutes a “concrete and particularized” injury.

We’ve written quite a bit about Spokeo and its progeny here. There, the Court held that plaintiffs alleging a “bare procedural violation” of a federal statute do not meet the “case or controversy” standing requirement of Article III of the US Constitution. Such litigants must also claim an injury-in-fact, i.e. a harm that is concrete and particularized to them. Justice Alito’s opinion offered very little guidance on how courts should make that determination. Continue reading

High Court Must Review ESA Decision that Endangers Ability to Appeal Agency Actions

st_tammany_navA group of Louisiana landowners is asking the Supreme Court to review a US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decision that dramatically expands the scope of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Weyerhaeuser Co. and Markle Interests, L.L.C.. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Their concerns are well-justified; the appeals court upheld land-use restrictions imposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for the purpose of protecting an endangered species of frog—even though the frog does not exist in Louisiana and could not live on the Petitioners’ land unless they substantially modified it.

But Supreme Court review is warranted for an additional and perhaps more important reason: the Fifth Circuit agreed with FWS that the Service’s refusal to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of its actions was not subject to judicial review.  As Judge Edith Jones stated in dissent, that decision plays havoc with administrative law and significantly undercuts the “strong presumption” that the actions of federal administrative agencies are subject to judicial review.

Worse still, the appeals court established a double-standard.  It permits environmental groups to seek judicial review when FWS invokes cost considerations as a reason not to impose land-use restrictions, but it denies landowners the right to go to court when FWS reaches the opposite conclusion.  That denial is particularly troubling, given that FWS’s own studies indicated that its land-use restrictions could cost landowners up to $34 million while providing no discernable benefit to the endangered frog. Continue reading

Food-Court Follies: Fraud Suits Fall Apart after Plaintiffs’ Candid Admissions During Discovery

ocean sprayAs many people learned from watching legendary radio and TV show host Art Linkletter (or from simply being parents), kids say the darnedest things. Similarly, those of us who follow class actions alleging misleading labeling of consumer goods have discovered that adult plaintiffs can say the darnedest things, too.

Three plaintiffs’ candid admissions during their depositions in two product-labeling suits recently revealed their claims to be entirely baseless. Regrettably, neither the plaintiffs nor their lawyers have been held accountable for the costs these frivolous lawsuits imposed on the federal courts, the defendants, and consumers. Continue reading

Class Actions Clothed in Righteousness: Appeals Court Rejects Bargain-Hunters’ Suits for Lack of Injury

nordstrom rackBy Abbey Coufal, a 2017 Judge K.K. Legett Fellow at Washington Legal Foundation who will be entering her third year at Texas Tech University School of Law in the fall.

Bargain shopping is not for the weary, but there is something thrilling about combing through items on tightly-packed circular racks, with the hope of hunting down the desired piece of clothing at a good price. Landing the perfect deal usually brings a feeling of satisfaction, and does not give rise to conflict with the retailer. But in America, even a bargain-finder who bought an unblemished sweater can turn around and sue the business on behalf of herself and countless other shoppers, claiming they were all fooled into making their purchases. Continue reading

FTC Takes a Commendable First Step Toward Reducing the Burden of Consumer-Protection Investigations

Featured Expert Column:
Antitrust & Competition Policy — Federal Trade Commission

06633 - Royall, M. Sean ( Dallas )By M. Sean Royall, a Partner with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, with Richard H. Cunningham, Of Counsel in the firm’s Denver, CO office, and Ashley M. Rogers, an Associate Attorney in the firm’s Dallas, TX office.

On July 17, 2017, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen announced internal process reforms that aim to “streamline information requests and improve transparency” in the agency’s consumer-protection investigations.  According to the announcement, going forward the Bureau of Consumer Protection will:

  • provide “plain language” descriptions of the civil investigative demand (CID) process the agency uses as its primary tool for gathering information during investigations on a compulsory basis;
  • provide “more detailed” descriptions of the scope and purpose of investigations;
  • limit the relevant time periods covered by CID informational requests;
  • “significantly” reduce the length and complexity of CID instructions for providing electronically stored data; and
  • increase the time available to respondents to respond to agency CIDs.

Continue reading