Food Court Follies: Misled-By-Maple Class Action Against Quaker Oats Preempted

maple and brown sugarIn all the blogging we’ve done on food-related consumer-protection litigation over the past five years, we’ve said very little about one of our favorite federal constitutional doctrines, federal preemption. That’s because the Food Court Bar has filed the vast majority of its claims in California, which has a statute, the Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Law, that explicitly incorporates all federal food laws and regulations. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have been able to defeat most preemption arguments by asserting Sherman Act violations, remedies for which would impose the same requirements as would federal law. Preemption defenses can prevail only when state law (or a state court decision) imposes obligations in conflict with federal law.

But in a series of recent suits against Quaker Oats Company, plaintiffs’ lawyers took a shot at imposing controls on oatmeal-product labeling that went beyond what federal rules required. Perhaps they thought the Central District of California would give them a pass, or that they could convince the court through some legal slight-of-hand. Judge Philip S. Gutierrez, who is presiding over the consolidated class actions, wasn’t buying it, however. On October 10, 2017, he dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims as preempted by federal law. In re Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal Litigation. Continue reading “Food Court Follies: Misled-By-Maple Class Action Against Quaker Oats Preempted”

Court Order Imposing $9 Million Sanction Paints Sordid Tale of Ethically-Challenged Lawyering

middle districtThe lure of easy money, as the late Glen Frey once sang, has a very strong appeal. It routinely inspires less-than-ethical behavior from those who pursue it. Lawyers are certainly no exception, as a recent investigation and resulting federal court sanctions order reflects. The October 18, 2017 opinion, weighing in at 148 pages, is a meticulously detailed indictment of two attorneys’ abusive pursuit of easy money from the never-ending Florida tobacco litigation.

The sordid tale’s roots trace back to the disastrous 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision, Engle v. Liggett Group. This per curiam (i.e. unsigned) opinion decertified a class of 700,000 smokers. It also held that a generic conclusion reached by the initial Engle jury—that cigarettes are defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous—would have preclusive effect in all future, individual lawsuits filed by the decertified class of Florida smokers. Continue reading “Court Order Imposing $9 Million Sanction Paints Sordid Tale of Ethically-Challenged Lawyering”

SCOTUS Seeks Solicitor General’s Views on Apple’s Cert. Petition in Antitrust Suit

app storeIn an orders list issued today, the U.S Supreme Court invited the Solicitor General of the United States to file a brief expressing the federal government’s views on the petition for certiorari in Apple, Inc. v. Pepper. The case, in which Washington Legal Foundation filed an amicus brief supporting Apple’s request for review, involves a forty-year old Supreme Court doctrine dictating that only direct purchasers of good or services may file private enforcement actions under federal antitrust laws.

The Court occasionally seeks the federal government’s views on a petition for certiorari in cases in which the government is not directly involved, but that implicate significant federal interests. In Supreme Court-speak, this is known as a CVSG: Calling for the Views of the Solicitor General. Continue reading “SCOTUS Seeks Solicitor General’s Views on Apple’s Cert. Petition in Antitrust Suit”

Federal Preemption Ruling Flushes Another Eye-Drop Class Action

eyedropAnyone who’s ever used eye drops has experienced solution overflow. You tilt your head back, pry your eye open, hold the dispenser close to your eyeball, and even though you squeeze very gently, some of the liquid flows onto your cheek. What is your logical next move? Is it to grab a tissue and dab up the excess, or reach for the phone and call your lawyer? As readers of the WLF Legal Pulse learned from a March 31, 2017 post, some overflow sufferers have actually done the latter.

That March 31 commentary recounted the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s dismissal of a class action against nine eye-drop makers alleging that consumers suffered economic harm from a needlessly oversized drop of medicine. A decision in another eye-drop-overflow suit filed in Massachusetts, Gustavesen v. Alcon Laboratories, et. al, recently came to our attention (HT to our friends at the indispensable FDA Law Blog).

The outcome of this suit was the same as the Eike v. Allergan, Inc. in the Seventh Circuit—class dismissed. Unlike Judge Posner’s typically curt, fanciful opinion in Eike, which tossed out the claims for lack of constitutional standing, District of Massachusetts Judge Mark Wolf found that federal regulation of the prescription eye drops preempted the state-law fraud claims. Judge Wolf’s thorough analysis is worth a careful read. Continue reading “Federal Preemption Ruling Flushes Another Eye-Drop Class Action”

The Latest on ALI’s Liability Insurance Restatement: Same as it Ever Was

scales of justiceWhen last we addressed the American Law Institute’s (ALI) proposed Restatement, Law of Liability Insurance, we reported that the organization decided at its May annual meeting to table final consideration of the document until 2018. One of the proposal’s chief Reporters, Professor Tom Baker, indicated that he and co-Reporter Kyle Logue would embark on a year-long listening tour and consider what they heard when looking anew at the Restatement draft.

It is quite curious then, considering Professor Baker’s statement as well as ALI’s declaration that the draft needed “another year of work,” that on August 4, the institute released Preliminary Draft No. 4—a mere 10 weeks after tabling Draft No. 3 at its meeting.  Even more remarkable are the fundamental similarities between the draft tabled on May 23 and the one released on August 4.

ALI’s haste in issuing another draft, and the Reporters’ obstinate refusal to address valid criticisms of Draft No. 3, are further evidence of an accelerating mission drift that could cause the legal community to lose respect for organization’s work. Continue reading “The Latest on ALI’s Liability Insurance Restatement: Same as it Ever Was”

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

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