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”

Ninth Circuit Finds Lower Court Erred in Flushing “Flushable” Wipes False Advertising Claims

laks_alexandra_webroibal_lucia_webGuest Commentary

By Alexandra Laks and Lucía Roibal, Associates with Morrison & Foerster LLP in the firm’s San Francisco, CA office. This commentary is reposted with permission, originally appearing on December 4, 2017 in the firm’s Class Dismissed  blog.

On October 20, 2017, a unanimous Ninth Circuit panel in Davidson v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 873 F.3d 1103 (9th Cir. 2017), resolved a circuit-wide split on injunctive standing requirements in the misbranding context.  The panel addressed whether a plaintiff allegedly deceived by false advertising has Article III standing to enjoin a false statement despite knowing the statement’s “true” meaning.  The panel answered in the affirmative, reversing the district court’s decision and reviving plaintiff’s “flushable” wipes false advertising claims.  The panel also held that plaintiff had adequately alleged that defendants’ wipes advertisements were false and that she had suffered an economic injury as a result. Continue reading “Ninth Circuit Finds Lower Court Erred in Flushing “Flushable” Wipes False Advertising Claims”

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”

A River Runs to Court: Environmental Activists Circumvent Democracy to Impose Agenda

colorado river gorgeThis is a frustrating time for environmental special-interest activists. Their cause is not one the public rates as a national priority. Their allies are no longer in leadership positions in federal agencies. And though they still have friends at the state and local levels, shrinking budgets prevent those regulators and elected officials from pursuing the activists’ agenda. With waning influence in other branches, many environmental organizations now increasingly look to a long-standing and reliable tool of advocacy—the lawsuit—to achieve their ends.

Some groups have gone well beyond such traditional environmental litigation as citizen suits under state or federal laws, and are instead seeking judicial injunctions that would force government regulators to implement activists’ preferred policies. These lawsuits suffer from a number of infirmities, not the least of which is they turn the entire democratic process on its head. Continue reading “A River Runs to Court: Environmental Activists Circumvent Democracy to Impose Agenda”