Over the last two decades, the False Claims Act (FCA) has become a popular tool for plaintiffs—and qui tam attorneys—to enrich themselves at the expense of government contractors. To keep the profits flowing, private plaintiffs, called relators, have invented new legal theories under which to bring their claims. As they test the FCA’s bounds, defendants have urged courts to maintain the law’s traditional limits. Last June, the US Supreme Court addressed one of FCA relators’ more successful liability expansions: the “implied-certification” theory. As a recent WLF Legal Backgrounder notes, though the Court affirmed the availability of this liability theory in Universal Health Services v. US ex rel. Escobar, it also urged lower courts to carefully scrutinize relators’ complaints as a way of limiting the implied-certification claims. Federal appellate courts have begun taking the Supreme Court at its word and have rejected claims that cannot establish materiality or satisfy the FCA’s scienter requirement. Continue reading
When attempting to remove civil lawsuits from state to federal court, business defendants often must contend with not one, but two opponents. One opponent, of course, is the plaintiff, who prefers the home cooking of a local judge and jury. The second opponent is the federal district court judge, who may be loath to inflate the size of his docket. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit late last month reversed one district court judge’s crabbed interpretation of a removal statute which consigned an asbestos-liability defendant to the notoriously pro-plaintiff Louisiana state courts. Continue reading
Marissa S. Ronk, an Associate with Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP*
The Colorado Supreme Court recently granted Ford Motor Co. “extraordinary relief” in overturning a trial court’s finding of general jurisdiction over Ford in Colorado. Magill v. Ford.
In 2013, Plaintiff John Scott Magill was driving a Ford vehicle when he was hit by another Colorado resident. In 2015, Mr. Magill and his wife filed a lawsuit in Colorado against the Colorado driver and Ford to recover for their injuries. Ford moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. Ford is incorporated in Delaware with its principal place of business in Dearborn, Michigan. The company argued that it is not subject to general jurisdiction in Colorado because it is not “at home” there, as required under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in Daimler AG v. Bauman. Ford also argued it was not subject to specific jurisdiction in Colorado because the car accident did not arise out of its contacts with Colorado. 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
Today, September 12, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments in two class-action food-labeling cases. The issues before the court are similar and the cases arise from nearly identical facts: the plaintiffs allege that the defendants’ product labels are false or misleading in violation of various state laws because they claim to be “natural.” The appeals will also be heard by the same panel—Judges Fletcher, Christen, and Friedland. In considering these two appeals, the Ninth Circuit will have a chance to set a major precedent that could either reduce the flow of food-labeling suits into California-based federal courts or open the spigot even wider.
The similarities between the two cases, Brazil v. Dole Packaged Foods, LLC and Briseno v. ConAgra, Inc., are striking. The plaintiffs filed putative class actions alleging that the defendants violated various statutory and common-law causes of action by labeling some of their products as “All Natural” or “100% Natural.” Brazil claims that Dole’s use of “All Natural” on several of its juices’ labels is false or misleading because the company added ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and citric acid. Both additives occur naturally in the juice products. Similarly, Briseno claims that ConAgra’s “100% Natural” label is false or misleading because the Wesson Oil in question contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 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