False advertising and labeling consumer class actions filed against consumer packaged goods companies have surged in the last few years, with more than 300 new cases filed each year since 2021. More than a quarter of these have been filed in California federal courts. A key question in many of these cases is what information the reasonable consumer would read and rely on from the product packaging. In June 2023, the Ninth Circuit weighed in on this topic, providing helpful guidance to companies.Continue Reading The Ninth Circuit Declares that Ambiguity can be Cured with Back Label
The Ninth Circuit recently struck a blow against plaintiffs’ attorneys’ ability to recover handsome attorney’s fee awards in class action settlements when there is little actual benefit to the class. In Lowery v Rhapsody International, Inc., No. 22-15162 (9th Cir. June 7, 2023), a Ninth Circuit panel reversed the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California’s award of $1.7 million in attorney’s fees to plaintiffs’ counsel in a copyright class action, finding that the fee award was not reasonable when compared to the class’ actual recovery of $52,841, without any injunctive relief.Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Slashes Exorbitant Attorney’s Fee Award That Would “Make the Average Person Shake Her Head in Disbelief”
Blockbuster Video may be extinct, but an obscure law designed to protect the privacy of video-tape renters is very much alive—the Video Privacy Protection Act (“VPPA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2710, et seq. Enacted in 1988 after The Washington Post published a profile of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video-rental history, VPPA prohibits any “video tape service provider” from knowingly disclosing a consumer’s personally identifiable information (“PII”) to a third party without the consumer’s express consent. The VPPA entitles prevailing plaintiffs to liquidated damages of $2,500 per violation.Continue Reading Cutting the Cord on Video Privacy Protection Act Claims – The Emerging Non-Consumer Defense
In recent years, website operators have increasingly used chatbots to improve customer engagement and provide customer support. In the past several months, however, the plaintiffs’ bar has expressed concerns about the privacy implications of these chatbots, and has brought a wave of litigation challenging their use under the California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA). Continue Reading The Tides are Turning on a Wave of California Privacy Litigation
Among other things, the federal TCPA imposes liability for calling/texting cell phone numbers using an Automatic Telephone Dialing System (“ATDS”) without sufficient prior express consent. As defined by the TCPA, ATDS is “equipment which has the capacity—(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.” The TCPA grants a private right of action and allows a plaintiff to recover statutory penalties of $500 per call/text in violation, or up to $1,500 for a knowing or willful violation. These statutory penalties have made the TCPA a favorite among class action plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking to hold companies liable for calls/texts over a four year statute of limitations period.
Recent FDA guidance for determining and declaring the protein grams in a serving has helped muscle a class action out of federal court.
Continue Reading FDA Boosts Protein Preemption Defense
Since 2019, a staggering number of “flavor” lawsuits have been filed, with dozens of putative class actions filed in a single month and more than 100 in 2021 alone. While some lawyers appear to have an insatiable appetite for filing these suits, courts appear to find them mostly unpalatable. The complaints allege that packaging on food and beverage items is false and misleading because the challenged products do not contain certain ingredients or because the flavor is achieved by using ingredients other than or in addition to what consumers “expect” to be the source of the flavor. Manufacturers of plant and dairy milks, yogurts, ice creams, creamers, cereals, chips, cakes, cookies and brownies have faced such claims. Vanilla, lime, butter, milk, strawberry, smoked, chocolate and fudge flavors have all been dragged into court. All of this litigation begs the question – will the gluttonous plaintiff’s class action counsel ever be satiated? It seems that, by and large, the federal courts are not swallowing the case theme. Two back-to-back decisions from the Southern District of New York, Boswell v. Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc. and Kamara v. Pepperidge Farm, Inc., chucked flavor claims on the basis that a reasonable consumer could not be misled by the product labels. In Boswell, the court dismissed plaintiff’s claims that she was misled by the packaging on Entenmann’s “All Butter Loaf Cake.” The district court noted that this was “the latest in a long string of putative class actions brought by the same lawyer” and identified six prior cases that had been dismissed.
Continue Reading Are Flavor Cases Fizzling? Two More Courts Grant Motions to Dismiss
In Brice v. Haynes Investments LLC, No. 19-15707 (9th Cir. Sept. 16, 2021), the Ninth Circuit considered an appeal by shareholders in Native American tribe-linked online lenders of a district court order denying the shareholders’ motion to compel arbitration. The Ninth Circuit reversed the order because, under the terms of the parties’ agreement, the enforceability of the arbitration agreement was a question for the arbitrator, not the judge, to decide.
Continue Reading Class Action Waivers Redux: Ninth Circuit Upholds Arbitration Provision Delegating Enforceability Determination to Arbitrator
Continuing the trend of recognizing Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) as a muscular privacy-protective statute, the Illinois Appellate Court for the First District has ruled that the most common statutory violations of BIPA are subject to a five-year statute of limitations. BIPA imposes several duties on companies that collect, store or use biometric data—e.g., fingerprints, facial geometry scans—from Illinois residents. Prevailing plaintiffs may recover liquidated damages ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 for each BIPA violation (plus attorneys’ fees), and these provisions incentivize plaintiffs’ lawyers to bring BIPA claims as class actions.
Continue Reading Illinois Appellate Court Affirms 5-Year Statute of Limitations Period for Certain BIPA Claims
The Supreme Court further limited consumer lawsuits in TransUnion, LLC v. Ramirez, siding with credit reporting agency TransUnion in a 5-4 decision holding that thousands of consumers improperly flagged as potential terrorists do not have standing to sue the company for damages. TransUnion expands upon Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 2578 U.S. 330, 340 (2016) in limiting standing under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and Article III to plaintiffs who have suffered a concrete harm, not just the violation of a statutory right. As a practical matter, TransUnion significantly narrows plaintiffs’ ability to assert claims in federal court on behalf of broad classes without proving a concrete injury to each member.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Addresses Class Action Standing in Ramirez Case: Requires “Concrete” Injury for Article III Standing for Class Members