Restate or Rewrite?: Stark Choice Faces ALI Leaders on Liability Insurance Law Project

rockThe debate over the American Law Institute’s (ALI) still ongoing Restatement of the Law: Liability Insurance (RLLI) project the mythical struggles of Sisyphus. Since 2015, when ALI—in unprecedented fashion—shifted the venture from an aspirational “Principles Project” to a Restatement, stakeholders and a growing number of third parties concerned with the project’s direction have been pushing the proverbial rock up the hill.

Throughout the drafting process, concerns have been consistently raised that multiple RLLI sections either depart from settled insurance-liability principles or establish entirely new rules. Each time, the RLLI’s Reporters issued a new draft that was nearly identical to the last.

With the release of Council Draft No. 4 for discussion at a January 18, 2018 conclave of the ALI Council—a final step in the approval process before the group’s May annual meeting—the uphill resistance has resumed and intensified. What transpires over the next week could have a profound impact not only on the insurance liability system and its stakeholders, but on ALI itself. Continue reading “Restate or Rewrite?: Stark Choice Faces ALI Leaders on Liability Insurance Law Project”

Textbook Application of “Obstacle” Preemption Negates Activists’ Organic Food-Labeling Suit

formulaFood Court Follies—A WLF Legal Pulse Feature

Several of our recent commentaries (here and here) have extolled the virtues of national uniformity for the regulation of interstate commerce. Those posts focused on litigation involving federally regulated prescription drugs and devices. But state consumer-protection litigation poses an even greater threat to regulatory uniformity.

Federal preemption—the constitutional doctrine that state-law litigation targets regularly cite as a defense—has generally been an ineffective argument against consumer-protection suits, especially those alleging misleading or false labeling of food and other packaged goods. A January 3, 2018 federal trial court ruling, Organic Consumers Association v. Hain Celestial Group, Inc., is a welcome exception to that trend. It’s also notable for how clearly the court explained implied preemption and the broader principle of uniformity underlying the defense. Continue reading “Textbook Application of “Obstacle” Preemption Negates Activists’ Organic Food-Labeling Suit”

California Court Decision Offers Hope for Procedural Brake on Lawyer-Driven Class Actions

poolThis year’s rankings by civil-justice reform organizations (here and here) of states’ legal systems once again placed California near the bottom (or top, depending on how the listings are done) of the pack.  One of the California Supreme Court’s final decisions of 2017, which imposes liability on a pharmaceutical company for harm allegedly caused by a generic competitor’s copycat product, solidifies that hostile reputation going into a new year.

We write today, however, not to pile on (though we wholeheartedly share others’ California concerns), but to spotlight a December 4, 2017 California Court of Appeal ruling that is not only contrary to the state courts’ pro-litigation image but also bucks a national trend on a key class-action law issue. The question at issue in Noel v. Thrifty Payless, Inc. was whether a court can certify a class of plaintiffs when no objective method exists to ascertain who is or is not a class “member.” Continue reading “California Court Decision Offers Hope for Procedural Brake on Lawyer-Driven Class Actions”

FDA Cannot Remain MIA as States’, Cities’ Drug-Litigation Crusade Threatens Regulatory Uniformity

FDAA November 30, 2017 post discussed the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) return to third-party courtroom advocacy for national, uniform regulation of products under its authority. In separate amicus briefs, the agency argued that federal law preempted both New York City’s enforcement of an expanded menu-labeling ordinance and certain claims in a products-liability suit against a medical-device maker. FDA also urged the International Trade Commission (ITC) to terminate an investigation into the drug-or-dietary-supplement status of an imported omega-3 substance because the inquiry would directly conflict with the agency’s authority in that area.

As a long-time proponent of regulatory uniformity, Washington Legal Foundation is encouraged by these developments, and we trust that FDA’s courtroom advocacy is a work in progress. The agency can make an even bigger difference in 2018 by weighing into litigation involving one of FDA’s most highly regulated class of prescription drugs: opioid-based pain medications. Continue reading “FDA Cannot Remain MIA as States’, Cities’ Drug-Litigation Crusade Threatens Regulatory Uniformity”

Food Court Follies: Yogurt Buyers’ Attempt to Milk “All Natural” Litigation Trend Rejected

yogurtAmong the hundreds of food-labeling class actions filed this decade, claims challenging a product’s “natural” or “all natural” declaration have stood out in number and notoriety. The latter characteristic is especially true about suits where a product is purportedly unnatural because an ingredient was “genetically modified.” A recent federal court decision reminds us that no matter how notable GMO-related claims are, or how convinced some are that their food contains GMOs and is thus not natural, a plaintiff still must plausibly allege such facts in her suit. Continue reading “Food Court Follies: Yogurt Buyers’ Attempt to Milk “All Natural” Litigation Trend Rejected”

FDA Makes a Welcome Return to Courtroom Advocacy for Uniform, National Regulation

FDAThrough the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FDCA) and its amendments, Congress put the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in charge of establishing uniform, national regulation of consumer products. In the past decade, private litigants and state officials have increasingly undercut regulatory uniformity through state tort and consumer-protection lawsuits. Rather than defend its congressional mandate through amicus briefs or other courtroom advocacy, FDA remained mostly silent during that period.

This year, under the leadership of Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Chief Counsel Rebecca Wood, FDA has stepped off the sidelines and is once again promoting uniformity by defending its regulatory role in several third-party legal action. That is a positive development for the producers and purchasers of FDA-regulated goods, which comprise nearly 25% of U.S. consumer spending. Continue reading “FDA Makes a Welcome Return to Courtroom Advocacy for Uniform, National Regulation”

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”