Trio of Soda Cases Test the Limits of Attorney-Driven Class Action Lawsuits

marguliesGuest Commentary

By Jeffrey B. Margulies, Partner-in-Charge of the Los Angeles, CA office of Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP.

The approach of many plaintiff consumer class-action lawyers is not difficult to discern: Concoct a factual theory to support a claim under California’s consumer-friendly laws that survives a motion to dismiss and a motion for class certification. Even if the liability case is highly improbable, the economics of the exposure to a certified class of consumers will compel all but the bravest of defendants to settle, handsomely rewarding the plaintiffs’ lawyers with fees. District courts in the Northern District of California, home to a surfeit of cases over alleged mislabeling of foods and beverages, have allowed many dubious factual claims to proceed.

Yet, even as (or perhaps because) the Ninth Circuit has removed obstacles to consumer class actions such as ascertainability (Briseno v. ConAgra Foods, Inc.) and standing to pursue injunctive relief (Davidson v. Kimberly-Clark Corporation), a trio of recent district court decisions over sodas appears to signal either that the Food Court is growing less tolerant of factually implausible claims, or that the plaintiff’s bar has gone a bridge too far. Continue reading “Trio of Soda Cases Test the Limits of Attorney-Driven Class Action Lawsuits”

Neither Reason nor Science Supports Class Actions against Diet Soda Makers

 

A Food Court Follies Analysis

No doubt, many a diet soda will be consumed this weekend. Will any of those consumers, though, purchase that soda—in reliance on the manufacturers’ devious use of “diet”—because they think it will assist in weight loss?

diet pepsiThat impression is the basis of a number of copycat consumer class-action lawsuits filed in New York and California by the same lawyers on behalf of soda purchasers against Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. Four such suits have been dismissed, the most recent being Manuel v. Pepsi-Cola Co. in an pointedly written opinion by U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Paul A. Engelmayer. Continue reading “Neither Reason nor Science Supports Class Actions against Diet Soda Makers”

Update: Ninth Circuit Softens its Decision in Flushable Wipes Case

roibal_lucia_webGuest Commentary

By Lucía Roibal, an Associate with Morrison & Foerster LLP in the firm’s San Francisco, CA office. This commentary is reposted with permission, originally appearing on May 17, 2018 in the firm’s Class Dismissed  blog.

On May 9, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an Opinion amending its previous decision in Davidson v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 873 F.3d 1103 (9th Cir. 2017).  As noted in a December 4, 2017 post on the 2017 decision, the Ninth Circuit had held that the fact that a plaintiff now knows the “truth” of an allegedly false advertisement does not foreclose injunctive standing.

In its amended Opinion, the panel clarifies its decision and refines the requirements for injunctive standing in the misbranding context in three ways: (1) it confirms that Article III injunctive standing requires plaintiffs to allege an intent to repurchase the product at issue; (2) it changes its previous stance that consumer protection laws would be gutted without injunctive relief; and (3) it holds that Plaintiff sufficiently alleged a “concrete and particularized” injury as well as redressability. Continue reading “Update: Ninth Circuit Softens its Decision in Flushable Wipes Case”

A Class-Action Paradise: Legal Environment in California Encourages Frivolous Claims

food-courtA Food Court Follies Analysis

California: the land of beaches, Hollywood, and lawsuits.  A land where dreams can come true and where plaintiff-friendly statutes and forgiving federal judges allow consumer class actions to reign supreme.  Here on the WLF Legal Pulse, we have previously blogged on series of cases filed in California in which consumers allege that wording or images on a packaged food product misled them into making a purchase.  One notable subset of these cases involves supposed geographical-location deception—brewers make purchasers believe their beer was brewed in a (usually exotic or foreign) location when it was actually made someplace else.

These suits are made possible by permissive California laws which allow plaintiffs to file class actions against any manufacturer for just about any reason.  Federal district court judges in the state compound the plaintiff-friendly atmosphere by being especially tolerant of poorly plead (or frivolous) claims, routinely handing plaintiffs’ attorneys two or three bites at the apple while also spelling out how to best amend their complaints.   Continue reading “A Class-Action Paradise: Legal Environment in California Encourages Frivolous Claims”

Second Circuit Shuts Down Duplicative Regulation by Litigation of Organic Products

organicA January 9, 2018 WLF Legal Pulse post applauded a federal district court’s textbook application of implied-preemption analysis in dismissing a consumer-protection suit that alleged mislabeling of an organic infant formula. A recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Marentette, et al. v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc. similarly utilized implied preemption to reject a putative class action presenting nearly identical claims involving another brand of organic infant formula. The decision should put an end to plaintiffs’ use of state consumer-protection suits to regulate products bearing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) “Organic” symbol. Continue reading “Second Circuit Shuts Down Duplicative Regulation by Litigation of Organic Products”

Update: Ninth Circuit Affirms End of Iced-Coffee Serving-Size Class Action

Food Court Follies—A WLF Legal Pulse Series

In a September 7, 2016 post, we enthusiastically applauded a Central District of California judge’s decision to dismiss, with prejudice, a truly outrageous lawsuit filed against Starbucks. The plaintiff claimed Starbucks misled him into believing that a 12-ounce iced tea or coffee should contain 12 ounces of liquid, and that the ice should not factor into the drink size. The jilted consumer appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which, on March 12, 2018, finally affirmed the trial court in a three-page unpublished opinion. Forouzesh v. Starbucks Corp.

iced coffee
Misleading?

The three-judge panel agreed with the lower court that no reasonable consumer would be misled in the way Forouzesh claimed to have been, and thus he could not sustain claims under California consumer-protection laws. He also could not prevail in his fraud claim because he could not prove he justifiably relied upon Starbucks’ supposedly misleading product representations. Finally, the trial judge did not abuse his discretion when he dismissed the suit with prejudice, as any amendment Forouzesh made of his complaint would have been futile.

We trust that courts in other jurisdictions entertaining similar (and similarly bogus) claims against Starbucks and other beverage providers will take notice of the outcome, as will elected officials in other states that are reviewing permissive consumer-protection laws.

Update: Despite Previous Judicial Guidance, Misled-by-Maple Class Action Dismissed Again

maple and brown sugarFood Court Follies—A WLF Legal Pulse Series

Last November, a Food Court Follies series post offered two-cheers for a Central District of California judge’s dismissal of consolidated class actions filed against Quaker Oats (In re Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal Litigation). The two cheers were for properly finding that federal law preempted the suit because it would impose novel (i.e. additional) labeling requirements.

We withheld the third cheer in part because the court not only failed to dismiss the suit with prejudice, but it also counseled the plaintiffs on how they could re-plead around his preemption ruling. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on November 10, 2017.

The plaintiffs’ changes apparently amounted to “lipstick on a pig,” because on March 8, the court again dismissed the suit, this time with prejudice. Continue reading “Update: Despite Previous Judicial Guidance, Misled-by-Maple Class Action Dismissed Again”