Category: Class Action Defense

Does “100% Natural” Mean “No GMOs”? First Circuit Holds That Deceptive Label Claim Not Barred Where FDA Leaves Question Unresolved

On May 7, 2020, the First Circuit in Lee v. Conagra Brands, Inc., reversed the dismissal of a consumer fraud class action on the ground that the complaint plausibly stated that the product’s “100% Natural” statement may be deceptive to a consumer where the product contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In Lee, the plaintiff claimed that a “100% Natural” representation on the product label for Wesson Oil enticed her to buy the product because it indicated to her that the oil was GMO-free, when in fact it was not. She filed a class action alleging unfair or deceptive trade practices in violation of the Massachusetts consumer fraud law, Chapter 93A. The district court granted Conagra’s motion to dismiss, finding that the “100% Natural” language was “consistent with the FDA’s longstanding policy for the use of the term ‘natural’ on the labels of human food.” Additionally, the district court held that the FDA does not require a product to disclose on its label the use of GMOs. An act or practice violates Chapter 93A if it is “either unfair or deceptive.” The First Circuit’s decision addressed only the “deceptive” prong as plaintiff failed to raise, and thus waived, any argument that the label was “unfair.” Noting that its “analysis begins and ends with the allegations in...

Third Circuit Reverses Class Certification in In re Lamictal Direct Purchaser & Antitrust Consumer Litig.; Next up, In re Suboxone

On April 22, 2020, the Third Circuit in In re Lamictal Direct Purchaser & Antitrust Consumer Litig., reversed class certification, concluding that the evidence did not establish that common proofs could be used to prove class-wide injury. The circuit court faulted the district court’s predominance analysis for failing to resolve factual disputes, weigh competing expert evidence, and make a prediction as to how these issues would play out at trial. Central to the ruling was the issue of antitrust impact. After brand and generic pharmaceutical manufacturers of the prescription drug Lamictal, or generic lamotrigine, settled a patent litigation, direct purchasers of these drugs sued claiming the settlement violated the antitrust laws as an impermissible “reverse payment agreement.” The brand manufacturer was alleged to have “paid” the generic to stay out of the market by promising not to launch an authorized generic (“AG”). The direct payor plaintiffs argued that they paid more for the drugs than they would have otherwise based on the theory that, on average, the price of a generic is lower when there are two generics rather than just one. The Third Circuit granted the manufacturer-defendants’ petition for leave to appeal under Rule 23(f). First, the Third Circuit rejected direct purchasers’ argument that certification was controlled by a comment in Tyson Foods v....

Appellate Division Enforces Provision Prohibiting Class Arbitration

In Curiale v. Hyundai Capital America Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed an order denying a motion to compel arbitration by Hyundai’s financing company (“HCA”), based on an arbitration clause in a motor vehicle retail order. The Appellate Division rejected the trial court’s finding that the arbitration clause was ambiguous because it stated that the parties must arbitrate any claims and then explicitly stated that the provision bars “class action arbitration.” The Arbitration clause provided: AGREEMENT TO ARBITRATE ANY CLAIMS. READ THE FOLLOWING ARBITRATION PROVISION CAREFULLY, IT LIMITS YOUR RIGHTS, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO MAINTAIN A COURT ACTION. The parties to this agreement agree to arbitrate any claim, dispute, or controversy, including all statutory claims and any state or federal claims, that may arise out of or relating to the sale or lease identified in this agreement. By agreeing to arbitration, the parties understand and agree that they are waiving their rights to maintain other available resolution processes, such as a court action or administrative proceeding, to settle their disputes. … The parties also agree to waive any right (i) to pursue any claims arising under this agreement including statutory, state or federal claims, as a class action arbitration, or (ii) to have an arbitration under this agreement consolidated with any other arbitration or...

District of New Jersey Further Clarifies TCPA’s Reach For Text-Marketing Campaigns

In a recent decision, Chief Judge Freda L. Wolfson of the District of New Jersey further clarified the reach of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) as it relates to certain text marketing campaigns by businesses. In Eisenband v. Pine Belt Automotive d/b/a Pine Belt Nissan, Eisenband filed a putative class action lawsuit against an automotive dealership, Pine Belt, claiming that Pine Belt had violated the TCPA by using an Automated Telephone Dialing System (ATDS), otherwise known as an autodialer, to send a text message to his cell phone. Eisenband had telephoned Pine Belt in 2017 requesting information about the cost of leasing a specific vehicle and instructed Pine Belt to call him back on his cell phone with the requested pricing information. Pine Belt’s sales representative obtained the cost estimate data and returned the call, as requested, but Eisenband decided not to enter into a lease for the vehicle. A few days later, Pine Belt sent Eisenband a promotional text message concerning lease options on other vehicles, which prompted him, about one week later, to file a class action lawsuit seeking statutory damages of up to $1,500 per text message, for himself and for every person in the putative class who received such text messages. Discovery revealed that Pine Belt had sent the text...

Guidance for Consumer Product Manufacturers, Distributors, and Sellers

Wide-ranging issues are arising in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis and will continue to impact our clients in a growing number of ways. The Gibbons Consumer Class Action Defense Team is here to help and can work with you to address these critical concerns. Communication with consumers is critically important for consumer product manufacturers, distributors, and sellers, whether in the form of product labeling, advertising, or direct communications through telephone, text, and email. These communications are fraught with class action hazards that should be addressed in advance. Particularly in our present environment, product statements or advertising that, for example, promote the ability to stave off infection, increase the body’s immune system functions, or disinfect surfaces, may become subject to challenge in class action lawsuits by entrepreneurial class action attorneys. Sellers that contact their customers using text messaging platforms or dialing systems need to be particularly wary given the proliferation of TCPA class actions which cause great harm to small and large business alike. Also, companies seeking to recoup losses may over-aggressively promote their own products in a manner that is illegal and anti-competitive. Franchisors and franchisees may be faced with economic circumstances that make their current arrangements impractical. If you have any questions or would like more information about potential class actions in connection...

27 Gibbons Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department Attorneys Selected to 2020 New Jersey Super Lawyers and Rising Stars

Attorneys from the Gibbons Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department were featured in New Jersey Super Lawyers and New Jersey Super Lawyers Rising Stars, with 18 Department attorneys on the 2020 Super Lawyers list and nine on the 2020 Rising Stars list. These attorneys were listed in a wide range of categories, including Antitrust, Business Litigation, Class Action, Communications, Construction Litigation, Criminal Defense, Criminal Defense: White Collar, Insurance Coverage, and Media/Advertising. Highlights of this year’s New Jersey Super Lawyers list include the top-tier rankings earned by two Department attorneys: Top 10 Attorneys in New Jersey Lawrence S. Lustberg, Co-Chair, Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department Top 100 Attorneys in New Jersey Michael R. Griffinger, Director, Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department Lawrence S. Lustberg, Co-Chair, Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department The Gibbons attorneys listed in the 2020 issue of New Jersey Super Lawyers are: Frederick W. Alworth Guy V. Amoresano Robert C. Brady Thomas J. Cafferty Patrick C. Dunican Jr. Michael R. Griffinger Jennifer A. Hradil Bruce A. Levy Lawrence S. Lustberg Robert J. MacPherson Michael R. McDonald Brian J. McMahon Mary Frances Palisano Damian V. Santomauro Peter J. Torcicollo Thomas R. Valen Christopher Walsh John T. Wolak Those listed in the 2020 New Jersey Super Lawyers Rising Stars section are: Anne M. Collart Leigh A. DeCotiis Sylvia-Rebecca...

Appellate Division Creates Split on Learned-Professionals Exception to New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act

In a recent opinion, Shaw v. Shand, the Appellate Division held that home inspectors are not “learned professionals” exempt from liability under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). Instead, the court held that only professionals who have historically been recognized as “learned” based on the requirement of extensive learning or erudition are exempt under the CFA. In Shaw, the plaintiffs hired the defendant, a licensed home inspector, to examine a home for defects. The defendant wrote a report concluding that the property was built with professional workmanship, was made of quality materials, and would only require typical maintenance and upgrades. The plaintiffs purchased the property in reliance on that report. Soon after the plaintiffs made the purchase, however, the property’s front porch collapsed. Plaintiffs then learned that the roof, windows, and sliding glass doors all leaked and required complete replacement and that the driveway would need to be replaced as well. They then discovered that the house had a significant mold problem. At the time the Appellate Division decided Shaw, the plaintiffs had spent tens of thousands of dollars repairing those conditions, and expected to spend tens of thousands more. Defendant’s inspection of plaintiffs’ home was his first as a licensed inspector. As a licensed inspector, defendant was subject to the requirements set forth...

Third Circuit Establishes Framework for Determining Third-Party Based Liability under the TCPA

In a recent precedential decision, the Third Circuit held that an unsolicited fax seeking information does not constitute an unlawful advertisement under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Now, to “establish third-party based liability under the TCPA, a plaintiff must show that the fax: (1) sought to promote or enhance the quality or quantity of a product or services being sold commercially; (2) was reasonably calculated to increase the profits of the sender; and (3) directly or indirectly encouraged the recipient to influence the purchasing decisions of a third party.” In Robert W. Mauthe, M.D., P.C. v. Optum, Inc., the plaintiff claimed that it received unsolicited faxes from Defendants in violation of the TCPA. Defendants maintain a national database of healthcare providers, containing providers’ contact information, demographics, specialties, education, and related data. Defendants market, sell, and license the database typically to healthcare, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies, who use it to update their provider directories, identify potential providers to fill gaps in their network of providers, and validate information when processing insurance claims. To maintain the accuracy of the database, Defendants send unsolicited faxes to healthcare providers listed in the database, requesting them to respond and correct any outdated or inaccurate information. These faxes also advised recipients that “[t]here is no cost to you to participate...

Supreme Court Further Restricts Class Arbitration Finding It Must be Unambiguously Authorized

In a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court in Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varella held that courts may not infer from an ambiguous agreement that parties have consented to arbitrate on a classwide basis. Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varella involved an employee who had filed a class action against his employer. Lamps Plus responded by seeking to compel arbitration on an individual rather than a classwide basis. The district court dismissed the case and compelled arbitration, but on a class basis. Lamps Plus appealed, and the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s decision. The Ninth Circuit’s reasoning hinged on the fact that the arbitration agreement was ambiguous about the availability of class arbitration. The Ninth Circuit thus distinguished Stolt-Nielsen S. A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U. S. 662 (2010), arguing that in Stolt-Nielsen the parties had stipulated that the agreement was silent about class arbitration, whereas the parties had no such stipulation in Lamps Plus. Because the Ninth Circuit held that the agreement was ambiguous, the appellate court turned to California’s contra proferentem rule and held that this state law contract principle required the court to interpret the ambiguous language against the drafter—here, Lamps Plus. The Supreme Court reversed because the principle...

Supreme Court Holds That 14-Day Appeal Deadline Established by Rule 23(f) Cannot Be Tolled

On February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court unanimously held in Nutraceutical Corporation v. Lambert, that the 14-day deadline imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f), seeking permission to appeal an order granting or denying class certification, cannot be tolled. After initially certifying a class, the District Court, on February 20, 2015, decertified the class after finding that common issues did not predominate among the class members. Pursuant to Rule 23(f)’s 14-day deadline, the plaintiff, Lambert, had until March 5, 2015 to seek permission to appeal. But, on March 2, 2015, Lambert orally informed the District Court that he would seek reconsideration and did not file his motion for reconsideration until March 12, 2015. Lambert’s motion for reconsideration was denied on June 24, 2015. Fourteen days after that, almost four months past his 14-day deadline, Lambert petitioned the Ninth Circuit seeking permission to appeal the District Court’s order decertifying the class. The Court of Appeals granted Lambert’s petition, finding that the 14-day deadline under Rule 23(f) should be tolled given the circumstances. Specifically, the Court of Appeals found that because Lambert had informed the court within 14 days that he would be seeking reconsideration, he acted diligently. The Supreme Court disagreed, however, and found that the 14-day deadline imposed by Rule 23(f) could not be...