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
Featured Expert Contributor — Civil Justice/Class Actions
Frank Cruz-Alvarez, a Partner in the Miami, FL office of Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P. with Ravika Rameshwar, an Associate with the firm.
On August 23. 2016, the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed a class-action suit that alleged the makers of Similac® Advance® Organic Infant Formulas fraudulently misrepresented the products as “organic,” holding that the state claims are preempted by federal law—specifically, the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. Marentette et. al. v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., 2016 WL 4444787 (E.D.N.Y Aug. 23, 2016). The court stated that Congress designed the OFPA to create a national standard for organic labeling that would be “disrupted, if not thwarted,” by inconsistent state and federal court decisions. Marentette, 2016 WL 4444787, at *8. Continue reading
In an August 26, 2016 Washington Legal Foundation Legal Backgrounder, Fighting the Frack Attack: The State of State Preemption Efforts, Kelley, Drye & Warren LLP attorneys Wayne D’Angelo and Travis Cushman document how the highest courts in four states have addressed local government limits on highly successful oil and gas extraction methods, such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. The most recent state court to consider the issue, the Colorado Supreme Court, held that two local governments’ limits on extraction techniques conflicted with the state’s oil and gas regulatory regime.
The paper noted that at the time of its release, it was unclear whether the Colorado Supreme Court’s rulings would remain in force because “Colorado is at the epicenter of a heated ballot initiative to change the state’s oil and gas laws.”
The Denver Post reported August 29 that the sponsors of two ballot initiatives related to oil and gas extraction failed to collect the number of requisite signatures for a November 8 vote. One measure would have prohibited new oil and gas facilities within 2,500 feet of homes; the other would have expanded local governments’ authority to restrict hydraulic fracturing. The Colorado Secretary of State’s random sampling of signatures for the two initiatives not only showed that their sponsors came up short of the 98,492 needed, but also that some of the signatures may have been forged.
Activists hostile to domestic energy development also failed in 2014 to place similar measures before Colorado voters.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on August 29 that it will not be appealing its loss in the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Tennessee v. FCC. The August 10 decision held that FCC lacked the authority under Telecommunications Act § 706 to preempt state limits on municipalities’ offering of broadband services. Washington Legal Foundation supported the Petitioners in the case with an amicus brief on which we represented former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth.
FCC argued that § 706 granted the Commission broad public-interest authority to dictate how states regulated the activities of their own local towns and cities. Tennessee and North Carolina both permit municipalities to offer government-owned broadband services, but they limit the offering of those services to the municipalities’ geographical borders. The Commission acknowledged it could not prohibit states from banning municipal broadband, but asserted that once states allowed such services, § 706 empowered FCC to preempt state policies that stood “as a barrier to infrastructure investment and broadband deployment.”
As former Commissioner Furchtgott-Roth and his Hudson Institute colleague Arielle Roth explained in an August 18 WLF Legal Pulse post, “The Sixth Circuit correctly rejected FCC’s basis for preempting the North Carolina and Tennessee statutes, stating that nowhere in § 706 did Congress indicate an intent to preempt internal state laws governing broadband deployment.”
The extent of FCC’s overreach was made manifest last November when the Department of Justice declined to sign FCC’s Sixth Circuit brief. Experts noted at the time that DOJ’s absence conveyed a not-so-subtle message to the Sixth Circuit. The Sixth Circuit sent an even clearer message to FCC with its August 10 decision, one that the Commission finally appears to have received.
With the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit granting it unprecedented authority over broadband companies in its June 14, 2016 network neutrality ruling, the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) regulatory authority over the internet is on the rise. However, a ruling last week by the Sixth Circuit, which overturned an FCC attempt to interfere with the internal affairs of two states’ broadband markets, reminded the Commission that there are limits to its power under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Consistent with an amicus brief filed in the case by Washington Legal Foundation (and on behalf of one of the authors of this post), the court held that FCC that may not act in contravention of federalism principles and the rule of law. Continue reading
On June 15, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments in three related bids to invalidate separate Hawaiian county ordinances. The counties of Maui and Hawaii ban the cultivation of genetically engineered crops or plants, while Kauai County requires that cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be annually disclosed to the county. Opponents allege that the ordinances are preempted by state and federal statutes and regulations governing agriculture and “plant pests.” Three separate federal district courts found that the ordinances were preempted, causing the counties, or their interested intervenors, to appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Continue reading
The U.S. Supreme Court: October 2015 Term Review
Speakers: The Honorable Jay Stephens, Kirkland & Ellis LLP; Andrew J. Pincus, Mayer Brown LLP; Elizabeth P. Papez, Winston & Strawn LLP; Jeffrey B. Wall, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
Our speakers discussed Court rulings in the areas of class actions, arbitration, the federal False Claims Act, intellectual property, federal regulation, and property rights.