Some of our colleagues from Mintz Levin’s Class Action Practice, Joshua Briones, Crystal Lopez, and Grace Rosales, recently authored an interesting and timely article in the Bloomberg BNA Product Safety & Liability Reporter. The article examines certain defenses in consumer fraud class actions over product labeling – specifically, defenses based on faulty damages models. Beyond proving the factual truth of the allegedly misleading labeling claims, the authors tell us, food and other consumer product companies can combat meritless suits by showing that the plaintiff’s damages-calculation model does not meet the requirements established under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

When reviewing a purported class action lawsuit, Federal Rule 23(b) requires the court to determine that “questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members.” Generally, a consumer’s damages in a false advertising case are equal to the amount of money needed to make the consumer “whole” — that is, to compensate the consumer for the harm caused by the false claim. But measuring the actual value received by a consumer and the but-for value that consumer would have received absent the false labeling by the product’s manufacturer requires a fact-intensive economic inquiry (for example, questions related to individual consumers’ behavior and preferences, the actual amount consumers paid for the product, time frame of the purchase, etc.). As a result, according to our expert litigators, defendants in product labeling lawsuits can oppose class certification or even file an early motion to decertify by showing that the plaintiffs’ damage model cannot be calculated with proof that is “common” to the class.

Joshua, Crystal, and Grace’s full article can be viewed here. Any manufacturer or retailer of consumer products that is facing a false labeling suit should give it a quick read!

Barber v NestleWe recently blogged about a new wave of class action litigation related to California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act.  In December, Nestlé USA won the dismissal of a complaint against it alleging that the company was “obligated to inform consumers that some proportion of its cat food products may include seafood which was sourced from forced labor.”  See Barber v. Nestle USAThe question was whether Nestlé had a duty to disclose on its packaging the possibility that some of its suppliers or suppliers’ suppliers used illegal labor practices, particularly when it is virtually impossible to trace such practices directly to their food products.  The Central District of California found that the law recognizes a “safe harbor” and that Nestlé complied with the law by providing a limited disclosure to its customers regarding the company’s efforts to ensure compliance with labor laws on its website.

It turns out that fish used in cat food is not the only product that may include sourcing from forced labor.  Suppliers of cocoa used to make chocolate may be using forced labor and child labor in cocoa fields.  Continue Reading Another California Dismissal of Proposed Class Action Regarding Disclosure of Forced Labor in the Supply Chain

Our colleagues Michael Arnold and Gauri Punjabi recently discussed the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of the Federal Rule 68 “pick off” strategy on Mintz Levin’s Employment Matters Blog.  We previously blogged about this crafty strategy employed by class-action defense counsel back in November 2014.  Following the recent Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez decision, defense counsel may no longer argue that a rejected Rule 68 offer that fully satisfies a named plaintiff’s claims is sufficient by itself to moot an action.  Under basic principles of contract law, the Court ruled, an offer of judgment once rejected has no force and parties retain the same stake in litigation as at the outset.  However, this decision does not necessarily foreclose defendants from “picking off” named plaintiffs by making an actual payment for the full amount of the claim.  To read more about the defeat of the Rule 68 “pick off” strategy and the actual payment option, click here.

 

 

The first round goes to the industry: on December 9, 2015, the Central District of California dismissed the complaint in Barber v. Nestle USA, a key bellwether case in a new wave of class action litigation related to California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act. The Barber plaintiffs’ theory was that Nestle had violated California’s panoply of consumer protection statutes by failing to disclose that “some proportion of its cat food products may include seafood [that] was sourced from forced labor.”

Judge Cormac McCarthy disagreed, finding instead that Nestle’s disclosures under the Supply Chains Act were protected under California’s “safe harbor” doctrine. And as the details of the decision make clear, this is no one-off victory: the court’s reasoning sets the blueprint for companies defending against similar suits going forward.

Continue Reading Knockout in Round One: Court Dismisses California Supply Chains Act Class Action

Passed in 2010, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act has a worthy aim: requiring retailers and manufacturers doing big business in California to disclose what measures, if any, they are taking to ensure their suppliers comply with human rights standards. What started as a legislative effort to educate consumers and incentivize good corporate citizenship, however, is quickly becoming a vehicle for private class actions against companies making this information available–even though the Act itself nowhere authorizes private lawsuits seeking damages. For consumer product companies, this is an important trend that could mark the next wave of class action litigation in California.

So what exactly does the Act require? And what litigation risks does this law now pose for companies doing business in California?

Continue Reading When Transparency Is Not Enough: Class Action Litigation Under California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act

The Pick Off DefenseIn recent years, we’ve noticed a new maneuver that class-action defense counsel have increasingly added to their playbooks: The Pick Off.  This is how the play is run: Offer the named plaintiff(s) full relief through a Rule 68 offer of judgment and, even if the plaintiff(s) reject the offer, argue that the fact that they were offered full relief nevertheless moots the case and requires dismissal.

For reference, Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a defendant to “serve on an opposing party an offer to allow judgment on specified terms, with the costs then accrued.”  If the plaintiff rejects the defendant’s Rule 68 offer of judgment and the judgment ultimately obtained by plaintiff “is not more favorable than the unaccepted offer,” then the plaintiff is liable for any costs the defendant incurred after the offer was made.

Continue Reading Class Action Defense Counsel adding ‘The Pick Off’ to Their Playbooks

Last week, a California federal judge revived a putative class action accusing Amy’s Kitchen Inc. of misleading customers by labeling sugar as “evaporated cane juice” on its products.  In a finding that puts the case on hold until the FDA weighs in, Judge Illston found that a decision to permanently dismiss the case would be unjust if the FDA later decides that “evaporated cane juice” is not an acceptable term for sugar on food labels. Continue Reading Sugar and Spice and Cases on Ice: Evaporated Cane Juice Case Stayed Until FDA Issues Formal Guidelines