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U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which, on March 12, 2018, finally affirmed the trial court in a three-page unpublished opinion.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

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”

Show Me the Slack Fill: State’s Overly Pliable Consumer-Fraud Law Courts Dubious Litigation

raisnetsFood Court Follies—A WLF Legal Pulse Series

Litigation involving processed foods and other packaged goods has become so popular that cases are now routinely filed not only over what’s in the package, but also over what’s not in the package. Lawsuits over empty space, colloquially known as “slack-fill,” enrich plaintiffs’ lawyers while according little or no benefit to consumers. These lawyers have flocked to courts that have broadly interpreted already flexible consumer-protection laws. Targeted businesses have started to express their concerns, and elected officials are beginning to listen.

One state where reform is afoot is Missouri. A very recent federal court decision there in a slack-fill suit reflects why that state’s law is under reconsideration. Continue reading “Show Me the Slack Fill: State’s Overly Pliable Consumer-Fraud Law Courts Dubious Litigation”

“Big Coffee” Wins Another One in the Food Court

big coffeeFood Court Follies—A WLF Legal Pulse Series

Ed. Note: This is the first post for our blog by our newest Staff Attorney, Marc Robertson.

Without Jerry Seinfeld’s litigious (and fictional) attorney Jackie Chiles on the case, Siera Strumlauf and her co-plaintiffs did not stand a chance in California’s Food Court (the Northern District of California) in her “latte fraud” lawsuit. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers granted Starbucks’ motion for summary judgment in Strumlauf, et al. v. Starbucks Corp., holding the plaintiffs failed to raise a single triable issue of fact as to each of their eight claims.

Lead plaintiff Strumlauf alleged that Starbucks committed, among other wrongs, breach of express warranty, fraud, and false advertising by underfilling its lattes and mochas (collectively, “lattes”). If this case sounds familiar, it is because a little over a year ago the Central District of California dismissed a case alleging Starbucks misrepresented the specific number of ounces in an iced drink in Forouzesh v. Starbucks Corp. (discussed here). That argument failed, so it only made sense that the plaintiff (and her lawyers) raised the temperature in the fight against Starbucks. Continue reading ““Big Coffee” Wins Another One in the Food Court”

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

formulaFood Court Follies—A WLF Legal Pulse Series

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”

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”