The Northern District of California recently applied the Ninth Circuit’s ingredients list rule in a putative class action decision. The Court refused to grant Nestlé USA Inc.’s summary judgment motion based on the statute of limitations in a suit involving allegations that Nestlé misleads consumers about the trans-fat content of their Coffee Mate creamer products. The Court held that a triable issue of fact remained because it was not clear when the consumer first learned about the alleged deception.
The Ninth Circuit has confirmed that a lack of summary judgment evidence linking a product to concrete injury may properly halt a would-be class action in its tracks if a defendant preemptively moves for summary judgment before plaintiffs have the chance to move for class certification.
As we explored in an earlier post, the plaintiffs in Browning et al. v. Unilever United States Inc. represented a would-be class alleging that defendant Unilever failed to disclose that its St. Ives facial scrubs caused “micro-tears” of the skin. In early 2019, the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted summary judgment in favor of Unilever. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to establish the alleged micro-tears constituted a safety hazard, and found that causation was lacking because the plaintiffs presented no evidence that St. Ives — and not some “other products or lifestyle” choices — caused the complained-of skin conditions.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed dismissal of a consumer fraud class action pursuing restitution under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) because the plaintiff failed to show she lacked an adequate legal remedy. Sonner v. Premier Nutrition, No. 18-15890 (9th Cir. June 18, 2020). In doing so, the Ninth Circuit resolved a split in the California federal courts regarding whether plaintiffs may pursue solely equitable relief under the UCL, Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), or False Advertising Law (FAL) when legal damages under the CLRA are available in the same amount for the same alleged harm. This decision has important implications for consumer class actions in California federal courts.
With no approved vaccine, the world waits for the next big breakthrough in 2020’s medical emergency. Some companies already claim to have found it – and subsequently received warning letters from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for misbranding. The FTC is targeting companies promoting products with supposed COVID-19 cures, treatment or prevention for making illegal, unsubstantiated claims.
One of the FTC’s objectives is eliminating false and misleading information from the marketplace. The FTC Act defines false advertising as misleading in a “material respect,” which includes both affirmative statements and failure to “reveal facts material in the light of [the product’s] representations[.]” See 15 USC 55(a)(1).
The Ninth Circuit recently rejected a plaintiff’s request for attorneys’ fees under the so-called catalyst theory where the changes the defendant made in an effort to effectively moot the case were different from the changes the plaintiff had demanded in the litigation. The decision illustrates that a creative fix to an alleged issue may deter a plaintiff’s counsel from pursuing the case without entitling them to a fee award under the catalyst theory.
A Vermont federal court dismissed a lawsuit alleging consumer fraud, breach of warranty, and unjust enrichment against Ben & Jerry’s because representations about its dairy from “happy cows” did not run afoul of the law. But the court granted the plaintiff twenty days to amend.
In Ehlers v. Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc., et al., Civil Action No. 2:19-cv-00194, a Vermont plaintiff sued defendants Conopco, Inc. d/b/a Unilever United States (Unilever) and its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. (Ben & Jerry’s) on behalf of a proposed class seeking compensatory damages and injunctive relief. The plaintiff alleged that statements on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cartons and website were materially misleading in violation of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act (VCPA) and constituted breach of an express warranty. The plaintiff also asserted a claim for unjust enrichment.