J.M. Smucker Company Gets Out of a Jam in Food Labelling Case

On April 15, 2014, in the case Caldera v. The J.M. Smucker Co., CV 12-4936-GHK, J.M. (C.D. Cal.), Smucker Company (“Defendant”) defeated the plaintiff’s motion for class certification in a case challenging the labels on Defendant’s Crisco shortening and Uncrustables food products.  The lawsuit claimed that Defendant had mislabeled its Crisco shortening with false claims about its healthfulness (such as “50% Less Saturated Fat than Butter”), and that it misleadingly labeled its Uncrustables products as “wholesome” when they contain transfat and high-fructose corn syrup.  As with many California food label class actions, the plaintiff brought suit under California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”), False Advertising Law (“FAL”), the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”), and breach of express and implied warranties.  The plaintiff sought restitution on behalf of the purchasers of the Crisco and Uncrustable products.

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Sweet(ener) Confusion: Court Divide Over Role of Primary Jurisdiction Doctrine in “Evaporated Cane Juice” Cases Grows

In Swearingen v. Santa Cruz Natural, Inc., No. C 13-04291 (N.D. Cal. April 2, 2014), Judge Illston of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted defendant’s motion to dismiss based on the primary jurisdiction doctrine.  The court held that the determination of the issue of whether the use of the term “evaporated cane juice” violates Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) regulations is best left to the FDA, and that deference to the FDA is appropriate as the FDA is engaged in active rulemaking on the issue.  Judge Illston’s decision demonstrates a growing divide on the application of primary jurisdiction in the “evaporated cane juice” arena.

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Seventh Circuit Affirms Lodestar Method to Determine Attorneys’ Fees in TCPA Class Action Settlement

In Americana Art China Company, Inc. v. Foxfire Printing & Packaging, Inc., 743 F.3d 243 (7th Cir. Feb. 18, 2014), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s attorneys’ fees award in a class action settlement arising from the defendant’s faxing of thousands of unsolicited advertisements in violation of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act.  In doing so, the Seventh Circuit reaffirmed the district court’s discretionary power to use the lodestar method, rather than the percentage method, to determine an appropriate fee award for class counsel.  The Seventh Circuit held that the lodestar methodology was properly applied and  permissible under the circumstances.

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District Court Cites Recent “Evolution” of Rule 23 Standards to Deny Class Certification Motion in Securities Action Based Upon Allegedly Misleading Registration Statement

In In re Kosmos Energy Ltd. Securities Litigation, No. 3:12-CV-373-B, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36365 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 19, 2014), the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Boyle, J.) denied lead plaintiff’s class certification motion in a consolidated action alleging claims under Sections 11, 12(a)(2) and 15 of the Securities Act of 1933 (“1933 Act”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 77k, 77l(a)(2), 77o.  The 1933 Act regulates registration and offering statements by holding issuers and other offering participants strictly liable for material misstatements and omissions.  Reliance is not an element of the claim.  Plaintiff’s class certification motion rested on the notion that 1933 Act claims presumptively deserve class treatment.  The district court, however, rejected the continued vitality of this notion in light of the recent “evolution of the case authority on class certification” requiring “a more skeptical view with a more exacting review process.”  The district court’s decision recognizes that, as with other substantive areas of law, this “evolution” applies in securities law cases.  Hence, historically “pro-plaintiff” approaches to class certification in securities cases (including cases based on 1933 Act claims) must yield to the newly evolved class certification standards.

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A (POM) Wonderful Result For Consumer Class Action Defendants

On March 25, 2014, the court in In re: POM Wonderful LLC Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation, Case No. ML 10-02199 DDP (C.D. Cal.), granted a motion by defendant POM Wonderful LLC (“POM”) to decertify a previously certified class of consumers who purchased certain POM juice products.  The court granted POM’s motion because plaintiff failed to present a damages model that satisfied Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S. Ct. 1426 (2013), and because the class was not ascertainable.

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Court Issues Sweet Ruling for Plaintiffs in Mislabeling Action – Ignorance That “Evaporated Cane Juice” Is An Added Sugar Not “Implausible”

In Morgan v. Wallaby Yogurt Co., Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied defendant’s motion to dismiss a class action complaint alleging violations of the UCL, FAL, and CLRA for mislabeling yogurt products, but struck plaintiffs’ prayer for injunctive relief.  The Court held that plaintiffs had standing to bring the UCL, FAL, and CLRA claims, as well as standing to prosecute claims for products the plaintiff did not purchase.  Morgan provides companies with an insight into the standing threshold for class actions challenging food product labels.

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Are Call Recording Class Actions Doomed?

In the past four years, droves of call recording class actions have been filed in state and federal courts across California.  The gist of each is that a company violates the law when its customer service department records calls with its customers without first providing notice that the calls may be recorded.  In a recent published decision, the California Court of Appeal may have sounded the death knell for these class actions.  The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a class certification motion, holding that individualized issues predominated.

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When 30 Days Just Isn’t Enough: The Ninth Circuit Rules that Defendants’ Right to Remove May Not be Limited to 30 Days

In Rea v. Michaels Stores, No. 14-55008, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 2928 (9th Cir. Feb. 18, 2014), the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s order remanding a wage-and-hour class complaint to state court, ruling that the defendant employer’s removal of the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) was proper.  The Ninth Circuit held that a defendant’s removal options are not limited to the two 30-day periods specified in the federal removal statutes.

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Everyone Gets To See The Evidence: The California Court Of Appeal Rejects an Attorneys’ Fee Award Based On The Trial Court’s In Camera Review Of Class Counsel’s Billing Records

In Concepcion v. Amscan Holdings, Inc. et al., — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2014 WL 595822 (Cal.App. 2 Dist. Feb. 18, 2014) the California Court of Appeal rejected class counsel’s fee award where class counsel’s billing records were provided to the trial court for review, but were not provided to the defendant’s counsel.

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Comity and Commonality: A Tale of Two Identical Class Actions Brought By Forum-Shopping Plaintiffs’ Counsel

In Murray v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., No. C 09-5744, 2014 WL 563264 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 12, 2014), the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied a motion for class certification that was practically identical to a motion brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois that was initially granted, but subsequently reversed by the Seventh Circuit.  In doing so, the court considered the relative weight and “comity” of identical class actions filed in other states, finding that they were entitled to “respect” but not “preclusive effect.”  Nonetheless, the court denied certification on the same grounds, finding a complete lack of commonality among the proposed class’ claims.

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