Here we go again. Lawsuits over allegedly deceptive food labels have become commonplace—a tried-and-true tactic for some plaintiffs’ attorneys to earn an easy buck. By claiming that the labels were intentionally misleading in some way, these lawyers and the purportedly confused clients they represent, seek to leverage the specter of a class action to force quick settlements. Unfortunately, this tactic often works. In fact, it has worked so well that entire subsets of labeling lawsuits have sprung up, among them “healthy food” labels, “all natural” labels, and slack-fill cases. We can now add a new category to the list: plaintiffs alleging they were deceived because their beer was not brewed where they thought it was.
Plaintiffs Sara Cilloni and Simone Zimmer filed a putative class action, Cilloni v. Craft Brew Alliance, Inc., in the Food Court (also known as the US District Court for the Northern District of California) against Craft Brew Alliance, the owners of Kona Brewing Company (Kona). Kona was founded in 1995 on Hawaii’s Big Island. Taking pride in the company’s origins, Kona stylizes each of its beers in an overtly Hawaiian theme, inviting customers to enjoy the “Liquid Aloha” and “Catch A Wave.” With names like Big Wave Golden Ale, Longboard Island Lager, and Wailua Wheat, Kona’s products celebrate their history and ties to Hawaiian culture. Continue reading
In creating the federal judicial branch, the Framers of the US Constitution did not intend that courts would right every possible wrong. Article III authorizes federal courts to resolve “Cases” and “Controversies.” The US Supreme Court has interpreted that power to mean that civil-litigation plaintiffs must prove they suffered an “injury in fact,” which is concrete and particularized, and not speculative. We’ve discussed Article III standing jurisprudence here in numerous contexts, most frequently in consumer class actions targeting food labels or data-security breaches, areas where the ever-amorphous concept of “economic harm” is often alleged. A March 6, 2017 Seventh Circuit decision, Eike v. Allergan, Inc. et al., shot down an especially outlandish attempt to expand standing based on an alleged economic injury. Continue reading
Civil Justice/Class Actions
Frank Cruz-Alvarez, a Partner in the Miami, FL office of Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P. with Rachel Forman, an Associate with the firm.
On February 6, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in the consolidated appeal Beck v. McDonald, 848 F.3d 262 (4th Cir. 2017), affirmed the district court’s order dismissing the plaintiff veterans’ putative class-action claims against the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Dorn Veterans Affairs Medical Center (“Dorn VAMC”) officials for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit held that the plaintiffs “failed to establish a non-speculative, imminent injury-in-fact for purposes of Article III standing.” Id. at 267. Continue reading
By David E. Sellinger and Aaron Van Nostrand, Greenberg Traurig LLP
In a closely watched appeal, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has squarely weighed in on the “ascertainability” of class members in a class-action lawsuit. The three-judge panel further widened a rift among federal courts of appeal on the issue, holding that plaintiffs need not demonstrate an administratively feasible way to identify class members at the class-certification stage.
In an August, 2016 WLF Legal Backgrounder, we predicted that a trio of class actions then-pending in the Ninth Circuit could prompt the US Supreme Court to resolve the circuit split on the ascertainability issue. Although that issue was briefed in all three cases, it was not decided in Brazil v. Dole Packaged Foods, LLC (No. 14-17480), and a hold placed on Jones v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. (No. 14-16327) pending a Supreme Court decision in Microsoft v. Baker is still in effect. The Ninth Circuit did address ascertainability in the third case discussed in that Legal Backgrounder—Briseno v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. The January 3 decision presents a view sharply in contrast with that of certain other circuits, most notably the Third Circuit. Continue reading
Partially hydrogenated oil
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 September 30, just two weeks after hearing oral argument in the case (which we previewed here), the Ninth Circuit released an unpublished opinion in Brazil v. Dole Packaged Foods, partially reversing the district court. The opinion correctly upheld the district court’s dismissal of one of Brazil’s “outlandish theor[ies]” and its decertification of the class. Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit relied on nonbinding FDA guidance and warning letters to evaluate what would mislead a reasonable consumer, reversing the district court’s dismissal of his other claims. Although not officially precedential, the opinion is worth reviewing because it has the potential to guide lower courts and gives insight into the Ninth Circuit’s future food-labeling decisions. Continue reading