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.
Consumer demand for natural cosmetics continues to grow. A Bloomberg News article projected the natural cosmetics market to grow over 5% annually and to be worth $48.04 billion by 2025. The article noted that high demand for natural products among millennials is “driving the growth,” which means the trend is likely to continue. Despite the increasing market share, the federal agencies that regulate the sale and advertising of cosmetics, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), still have not formally defined the term “natural” as applied to cosmetics.
As we have reported in our previous blog posts (“Beware the “Influencer”” and “The Price of Natural Cosmetics”), courts continue to wrestle with challenges to manufacturers’ claims that their products are “all natural.” Recently, California’s Central District Court added to the growing volume of decisions in this space. In Robinson v. Unilever United States, Inc., 2019 WL 2067941 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 25, 2019), the Court was tasked with resolving “100% natural” claims and “made with 100% natural” ingredients claims. The Robinson decision provides some insight into what types of “natural” claims may be permitted by trial courts and how they are reigning in consumer class actions.
The proliferation of social media has transformed the world in many ways including how people communicate, becoming a preferred vehicle for political discourse and an important source of information in litigation. It has also changed the way companies market their products. Gifting “influencers” with products to promote in their posts has proven to be a successful marketing strategy for increasing brand awareness. However, companies may be held accountable for claims made by influencers about their products.
In a world where consumers are more health-conscious and eco-friendly than ever, products containing artificial ingredients have become less attractive. Consumers are looking for natural alternatives, and the cosmetics industry is no exception. The recent boom of all-natural products has coincided with a rise in litigation. Like the food industry, cosmetic companies are learning that marketing products as “natural” comes with a price.