In 2016, class-action lawsuits alleging that a processed food product or its labeling violated state consumer-protection laws continued to clog the federal courts, especially in California. The number of new food-related consumer class actions filed last year nearly equaled the number filed in 2015, according to a report in Food Navigator USA. It’s unclear whether these trends will hold in 2017, but there is one set of blatantly frivolous claims that should disappear this year: those that seek judicial regulation of products that contain partially hydrogenated oil (PHO), the main source of trans fat. A December 13, 2016 Southern District of California decision should frustrate such claims in the short term, and a forthcoming US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision in a pending case may (and should) end them permanently. Continue reading
On November 17, 2016, Washington Legal Foundation petitioned the US Supreme Court to review a US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision, Gordon v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. CFPB had pursued a substantial fine against WLF’s client, Chance Gordon, in June 2013, a time during which the Bureau lacked a properly appointed Director. Mr. Gordon’s petition argues that the attempted corrective action Richard Cordray took once he lawfully became CFPB Director—a blanket, retroactive ratification of all actions taken during his unconstitutional recess appointment—runs afoul of the US Constitution’s Appointments Clause (contained in Article II). Mr. Gordon also argues that because Mr. Cordray had not been properly appointed, CFPB lacked standing to pursue a claim against him in federal court.
This week, three organizations filed amicus curiae briefs with the Supreme Court in support of Mr. Gordon’s writ of certiorari. The briefs positively reinforce WLF’s two major justifications for the Court’s review of Gordon v. CFPB. The petition first argues that the Ninth Circuit’s acceptance of Director Cordray’s blanket ratification severely undermines a fundamental check on Executive power: the requirement that Congress must first approve presidential nominees before they can be lawfully appointed. The Gordon decision is also contrary to Supreme Court precedent and furthers a split in the circuit courts over when ratification of ultra vires administrative action is permissible. Continue reading
Tomorrow is “Small Business Saturday,” (November 26), so it’s a good time to reflect upon the especially challenging regulatory and legal environments such businesses have faced in recent years. Even though the federal government maintains an entire agency whose mission is purportedly to assist small businesses—the Small Business Administration—regulators seem ever oblivious to their impact on entrepreneurs. The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) effort to redefine who is an “employer” and the NLRB’s and the Department of Labor’s (DOL) enmity toward independent contracting are two current examples. A third is DOL’s so-called Fiduciary Rule, which hits sole-practitioner and small-business investment and insurance advisors especially hard.
Small businesses are also at a particular disadvantage when disputes with the government end up in court. A recent US Court of Federal Claims decision, SUFI Network Services, Inc. v. US, exhibits government’s unfortunate willingness to exploit its power in disputes with a small business and the role courts can play in protecting entrepreneurs’ rights. Continue reading
When prohibiting or reducing “harmful” economic conduct proves either politically unpalatable or otherwise unachievable, governmental regulators often target speech about the conduct as a convenient alternative. Rather than ban the sale of tobacco or sugary drinks, for instance, federal, state, and local governments have imposed restrictions on advertising and other promotional speech. Unable to generate support for a second Prohibition, temperance proponents have attempted to chill alcohol consumption through speech limits, such as proscribing disclosure of alcohol-by-volume percentage on beer labels and even censoring ads for happy hours. In 2016, the so-called sharing economy became the government’s latest target regulating conduct by proxy. Thankfully, online short-term rental platforms like Airbnb are fighting back with First Amendment challenges. Continue reading
In the dog days of summer 2016, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) ordered local government authorities to ban advertising for a select group of “disfavored” food and beverage products. The agency’s brazen action establishes a deeply troubling precedent in government’s efforts to usurp our freedom to choose what we eat and drink. Over the last several years, Washington Legal Foundation has closely tracked and strategically opposed actions such as USDA’s ban through our “Eating Away Our Freedoms” project. We launched that project five years ago this month on October 20, 2011.
The EatingAwayOurFreedoms.org website is organized by the four major tactics that activists use to denigrate certain foods and beverages and to stigmatize consumers’ choice of those products: regulation, litigation, taxation, and public-relations demonization. For several years, the “regulation” page contained far fewer references to news articles and other analyses than the other three. But as government’s appetite for food-related mandates and restrictions has grown, the number of “regulation” entries has ballooned. USDA’s ad ban is perhaps the most pernicious regulation EatingAwayOurFreedoms.org has ever encountered. Continue reading
“Enough is enough.”
That is how Judge Clay D. Land, Chief Judge of the US District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, concluded the first paragraph of a scathing five-page order in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) proceeding In re Mentor Corp. Obtape Transobturator Sling Products Liability Litigation. The September 7, 2016 order includes three-and-a-half pages of what Judge Clay himself labeled “Obiter Dictum.” For non-lawyers or those not fluent in Latin, obiter dictum is that part of a judicial opinion that is not necessary to the holding of the case.
Dicta it may be, but those three-and-a-half pages offer a spot-on critique of the MDL process by an experienced judge who has garnered significant criticism from defense-side lawyers for some of his pro-plaintiff rulings in the In re Mentor litigation. Continue reading
Since its inception in the spring of 2010, the WLF Legal Pulse has routinely cast aspersions upon (mostly California-based) class-action lawsuits alleging fraudulent food labeling and the shopping-cart-chasing lawyers who file them. The blog even has a tag devoted entirely to posts on these suits: Food Court.
Of all the lawsuits we’ve discussed here, few cases epitomize the absurdity of this litigation trend better than the recently decided Forouzesh v. Starbucks Corp. Filed not in the “Food Court” (aka the Northern District of California), but rather in the Central District of California, this suit alleged that Starbucks committed, among other wrongs, fraud, false advertising and breach of warranty by misrepresenting the specific number of ounces in an iced drink. In other words a “Grande” iced coffee or tea, which is 16 ounces, actually contains 12 ounces of coffee plus 4 ounces of ice. As reflected by the grainy photos of a Starbucks cup and a Pyrex bowl in the complaint, Forouzesh actually measured this out. He sought to represent a class of California Starbucks iced-drink purchasers and demanded compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief. Continue reading