In a decision that may impact future e-commerce, the California Court of Appeal held in Bolger v. Amazon.com, LLC that under California law, Amazon could be strictly liable for an allegedly defective battery manufactured by a third-party and sold on its website. The Court further found Amazon was not immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act. The Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Amazon.
Social media information that reflects a person’s physical condition, activity level, and emotional state is a particularly valuable source of discovery in product liability and personal injury cases. See, e.g., Forman v. Henkin, 30 N.Y.3d 656 (2018). Lawyers must take great care to collect that information ethically.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Liu v. SEC, No. 18-1501 (June 22, 2020), limiting the SEC’s ability to obtain monetary equitable relief in securities fraud litigation, may seem an odd topic for this blog. But Liu is worth some attention because it may foreshadow an impact on calculation and distribution of monetary awards in consumer fraud class actions. The decision may influence the calculation of disgorgement or restitutionary remedies, and it may signal another hurdle for the controversial judge-made distribution mechanism, cy pres.
The first appellate shoe has dropped in the litigation involving the herbicide Roundup, Johnson v. Monsanto Co., decided July 20, 2020, by California’s 1st District Court of Appeal, Division One. We discussed the verdict and the trial court’s post-trial rulings here, and we now follow through with an update.
Initially, the price tag for allowing questionable science into the courtroom, as measured by this verdict, has been reduced. The court of appeal lowered the compensatory damages award from $39 million to about $10.25 million, concluding the jury had improperly awarded noneconomic damages that plaintiff would likely never suffer. Because plaintiff’s counsel had argued to the jury that plaintiff’s Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma had reduced his future life expectancy to two years, the jury could not award pain and suffering damages beyond that two-year span. And, agreeing with the trial court that constitutional limits required a 1:1 ratio between compensatory and punitive damages, the court slashed the $78 million punitive award to about $10.5 million.
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.