One Year Later: How a Year of Pandemic has Affected the American Law Firm
As the legal system continues to adapt to the constant change brought about by the global pandemic, many law firms are looking ahead to plan for the future. We explore how law firms have changed and what modifications are here to stay in our new series, Post-Pandemic Law Firm Landscape. Hear first-hand from plaintiffs' firm on how they've navigated the current state of the legal system and their outlook moving forward.
On February 22, 2021, class claims were filed in Texas Federal Court in the District Court of Harris County against Griddy Energy LLC (“Griddy”) by a group of Griddy customers who allege that they were charged excessive electricity prices due to Winter Storm Uri in February 2021.
On February 23, 2021, class claims were filed in federal court in the Eastern District of California Fresno Division, against retail giant Walmart Inc. alleging that the defendant implemented an illegal policy requiring its non-exempt workers to undergo COVID-19 screenings prior to each shift without pay.
The battle against insurance carriers over a lack of business interruption coverage in the wake of the on-going pandemic continues with a group made up primarily of Washington State dentists and orthodontists, in addition to other businesses like restaurants, filing a motion for Western District of Washington Judge Barbara J. Rothstein to certify questions of common state law to the Washington State Supreme Court.
The controversy surrounding the meteoric rise and fall of the GameStop stock continues, as yet another class action complaint involving the incident was filed on February 16, 2021, in Massachusetts federal court. In the suit, plaintiff Christian Iovin alleges that defendant Keith Patrick Gill, a professional securities broker, purposefully incited a market frenzy by advocating for amateur market traders to enact revenge on big hedge fund companies by artificially inflating the price of shares of GameStop.
On February 5, 2021, baby food giant Gerber Products Co. (“Gerber”) was served with class claims in federal court in the District of New Jersey alleging that unbeknownst to consumers, and contrary to the representations made by Gerber, its baby food products contain heavy metals, including arsenic and cadmium.
On February 3, 2021, restaurant and arcade chain Dave & Buster’s filed suit against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (“the Governor”) in federal court in the Northern District of New York alleging that Cuomo’s decision to close down all arcades statewide, while allowing comparable businesses to remain open, is arbitrary and unconstitutional.
On January 22, 2021, class claims were filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, against textbook giant McGraw Hill LLC, by a group of McGraw Hill authors who allege that the company breached its contract with contributing authors by reducing royalties when it sells their textbooks in an electronic format.
On January 28, 2021, class claims were filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York against popular brokerage firm app, Robinhood, over the company’s abrupt removal of GameStop and other contentious stocks. This was in response to a trading war of attrition raging between the independent retail investors that convene on the sub-Reddit r/WallStreetBets and short-selling hedge funds.
On January 21, 2021, class claims were filed in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois against Easy Healthcare Corporation, the developer of popular fertility app Premom, alleging that the defendant company had been sharing users’ personal information and location data with Chinese companies.
Thinking about Leaving Your Firm?
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way many attorneys practice law. Across the country, courthouses are undertaking virtual trials in an effort to keep the judicial system moving while adhering to social distancing measures. Along with virtual hearings and proceedings has come serious consideration of moving toward an “at home” practice.
With the option of going remote becoming more and more plausible, thoughts of breaking away from your current firm—with or without additional attorneys and support staff—may come into play. Or perhaps your firm is the regional office of a national firm and you are entertaining the concept of an independent practice. At a minimum, given the financial and legal impact on law firms due to our collective sequestration, the future of your current path may be subject to change.
On January 8, 2021, class claims were filed in the Southern District of New York against the company behind the popular Keebler cookies alleging that the company engaged in false, deceptive and misleading product labels.
In the complaint, plaintiff Sharon Pizarro alleges that the defendant promotes its popular Keebler Fudge Stripe shortbread cookies as “made with real Keebler fudge.”
On December 18, 2020, popular streaming service Netflix reached an undisclosed settlement with the estate of famed Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (“the Estate”), bringing an end to claims that Netflix infringed on plaintiff’s copyrights in its new movie, Enola Holmes.
On January 7, 2021, consumer goods company Unilever United States was served with class claims in New Jersey federal court alleging its popular TRESemmé Keratin Smooth Shampoo and TRESemmé Keratin Smooth Color Shampoo (“the products”) contain an ingredient that causes significant hair loss and scalp irritation upon proper application.
On January 4, 2021, class claims were filed in federal court in Massachusetts against popular tourist attraction, Boston Duck Tours, by a group of current and former employees of the company who allege that Boston Duck Tours violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by failing to pay employees their rightful wages for overtime hours.
The challenges presented in 2020 have caused most people to radically alter the way they do business and how they live their lives in general. Activities that were once conducted in-person have been transitioned to taking place online, from trials and court hearings to holiday dinners and birthdays.
Now more than ever, many of us may find ourselves glued to our devices as we strive to stay connected, through social media apps like Facebook, or to look for mindless entertainment on apps like TikTok. But while most people don’t see the harm in hours spent on social media, it’s important to be aware of the amount of potentially sensitive personal information that you may be inadvertently revealing online.
On December 10, 2020, class claims were filed in New York Supreme Court in New York County against the popular at home fitness company Peloton alleging that the company has denied, and continues to deny, deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals equal access to the same goods, services and benefits it provides to non-disabled Peloton app subscribers.
On December 11, 2020, class claims were filed against American automaker General Motors (“GM”) in federal court in the Eastern District of Michigan. The suit alleges that GM failed to inform consumers of a serious defect in the lithium-ion battery used on the company’s popular Chevrolet Bolt (“Chevy Bolt”) vehicle.
On December 6, 2020, class claims were filed against the makers of the popular snack food PopChips in federal court in the Southern District of New York. The suit alleges that PopChips Ridges Cheddar & Sour Cream chips (“the product”) are mislabeled in an attempt by the manufacturer to intentionally mislead consumers as to the true ingredients in the product.
On November 25, 2020, preliminary approval was granted by U.S. District Court Judge Henry Edward Autry for a $5,000,000 settlement ending class claims between superstore giant Walmart and a class of plaintiffs who alleged that the defendant routinely and systematically breaches the terms of its return policy.
On November 19, 2020, class claims were filed against Kimberly-Clark Corporation (“Kimberly-Clark”) in federal court in the Eastern District of New York. The suit alleges that the company neglected safety and sanitation responsibilities owed to its customers and the public at large when it was discovered that the defendant’s Cottonelle Flushable Wipes and GentlePlus Flushable Wipes products were contaminated with a dangerous bacterial strain.
On November 16, 2020, Eastern District of New York Judge Eric R. Komitee granted preliminary approval for a $1.3 million proposed settlement that ended claims between pet supply store Petco and a class of former employees.
On November 13, 2020, major home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool Corporation (“Whirlpool”) was served with class claims in federal court in the Southern District of California alleging that the company manufactured and distributed defective refrigerator-freezers.
On November 3, 2020, class claims were filed against Costco Wholesale Corporation (“Costco”) and dog food maker Diamond Pet Foods Inc. (“Diamond”) in federal court in the Western District of Washington. The suit alleges that Diamond’s brand—Kirkland Nature Domain—mislabeled its Turkey Meal & Sweet Potato Formula for Dogs and Chicken and Pea Formula for Puppies (together, “Kirkland Products”), thereby misleading consumers as to the true nature of the ingredients of the products.
On October 19, 2020, class claims were filed against Frito-Lay Inc. in federal court in the Southern District of California by a class of consumers who allege that the defendant chip company knowingly misrepresented the true ingredients in its Baked Lays Cheddar & Sour Cream flavor chips (“the mislabeled chips”).
What’s Important to Know About Virtual Trials
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, the legal community has been forced to adapt and adjust to a new way of practicing law. Attorneys have incorporated technology into the daily minutiae of their practices, given that in-person events have largely shifted to a virtual format in most jurisdictions. While you may have already taken part in telephone court hearings or zoom depositions, you probably have not yet experienced a virtual trial.
On October 15, 2020, airport food supplier, Host International Inc., was served with proposed class claims in California Superior Court in the County of Los Angeles. A group of former Host International employees allege that the company failed to pay past wages and accrued vacation time owed to the former employees, despite being aware of the dire economic circumstances many of them faced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdown.
On October 13, 2020, class claims were filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York against famed ice cream brand, Haagen-Dazs, alleging that the front label on the brand’s Coffee Almond Crunch ice cream bars misled consumers as to the true ingredients of the product.
On October 1, 2020, class claims were filed against grocery delivery company, Instacart in federal court in the District of Georgia alleging that Instacart’s policies violate the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).
In the complaint, named plaintiff Nieves Lopez describes how she was hired by Instacart in February 2019 as a salaried employee in a managerial position. In April 2020, the plaintiff was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, adjustment disorder, anxiety and depression. She subsequently requested and was granted intermittent FMLA leave through June 1, 2020. The complaint further explains that plaintiff believed that, based on Instacart’s representations, that she would be able to use her paid time off (“PTO”) in connection with her extended FMLA leave.
On September 24, 2020, class claims were filed against popular food delivery service, DoorDash Inc., by a Missouri restaurant in federal court in the Northern District of California. The suit claims that the defendant engaged in a pattern of behavior that deceptively directed customers away from restaurants with whom DoorDash does not have a relationship.
On September 28, 2020, class claims were filed in federal court in the Central District of California by a group of Los Angeles County indoor mall stores against Los Angeles County, along with the LA County Department of Public Health and other County officials. The suit alleges that the defendants’ choice to refuse to allow indoor mall stores to reopen for in-person shopping on the basis of protecting public health, has no public health justification.
Procedural Check-In on COVID-Related Litigations
As COVID-19 developed into a global crisis, many legal experts have speculated as to which lawsuits were likely to rise to the forefront. Seven months into the pandemic, here is a snapshot of the procedural status of some of the resulting litigations:
On September 21, 2020, class certification was granted in federal court in the Northern District of California to a class of consumers who allege that popular Keurig single-serve coffee pod brand, Green Mountain Inc., intentionally misled consumers regarding the recyclability of its product.
On September 10, 2020, Southern California federal court Judge M. James Lorenz declined a motion to dismiss putative class claims against One Brands, alleging that the defendant, a subsidiary of Hershey Co., intentionally misled consumers as to the true ingredients in its popular protein bars.
On September 8, 2020, a Vermont restaurant filed suit in Massachusetts federal court against Wind River Environmental, after the company flooded the unnamed restaurant with countless gallons of human feces, urine and sewage.
The legal profession poses a multitude of challenges to female attorneys and the women profiled in this series lead the way by example, in effecting change and working to shatter the glass ceiling. In doing so, they’ve experienced a great deal of change in the industry throughout their careers.
On September 8, 2020, class claims were filed in New Jersey Superior Court against two long-term healthcare providers, Andover Subacute Rehabilitation Center I and Andover Subacute Rehabilitation Center II (“Facilities”), alleging that the Facilities deliberately misled the families of residents, and the residents themselves, as to the quality of care provided and the safety standards in place.
On September 1, 2020, international consulting firm Deloitte was served with class claims in federal court in the Southern District of New York, alleging that the company’s parental leave program is highly misleading.
In the complaint, named plaintiff Saxon Knight describes how Deloitte advertises to both the public and its employees, that it offers a progressive parental leave program. The plaintiff argues that the defendant company makes it a point to self-promote its parental leave policies and has been generously lauded by the media for its commitment to allowing employees to take up to 16 weeks of paid leave.
On August 31, 2020, class claims were filed in federal court in Minnesota against DAP Products Inc. (“DAP”), the makers of DAP 3.0 “Crystal Clear” Kitchen, Bathroom and Plumbing Sealant, alleging that the product yellows within several weeks of being applied.
On August 26, 2020, Wyndham Vacation Resorts Inc. (“Wyndham”) was served with class claims in federal court in the District of Delaware, alleging that its timeshare ownership program employed misleading sales and marketing tactics to fraudulently induce plaintiffs to enter into sales agreements for pricy timeshares.
On August 24, 2020, class claims for violations of the federal securities laws were filed in federal court in the Northern District of California against biotech company Vaxart Inc. (“Vaxart”). A group of securities holders alleged that Vaxart engaged in artificially inflating the company’s stock price by announcing false and misleading information concerning the company’s COVID-19 oral recombinant vaccine candidate.
New Attorney Licensing and the Bar Exam During COVID-19
Taking the bar exam is a pivotal point in the transition from law student to lawyer. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, those preparing for bar exams across the country have faced a number of setbacks. State bar examiners have oscillated between postponing in-person exams to instituting online exam platforms. Law students and professors alike have called for the enactment of an emergency diploma privilege which would allow all graduates to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney—totally bypassing a bar examination.
On August 12, 2020, popular food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (“Chipotle”) was served with proposed class claims in federal court in the District of Arizona, alleging that the company discriminates against female employees who are breast feeding.
Tensions continue to mount in the class action lawsuit between upmarket grocery chain Whole Foods Inc. (“Whole Foods”) and a class of employees who allege that the store violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by refusing to allow employees to wear “Black Lives Matter” face masks while on duty. Plaintiffs filed a reply brief in support of their emergency motion for preliminary injunction on August 11, 2020, in swift response to the defendant’s August 5, 2020, memorandum in opposition of preliminary injunction.
On August 7, 2020, plaintiffs in the class action suit against Walmart, which centered on claims of price gouging for meat products, submitted a settlement worth up to $9.5 million to Southern District of Florida Judge Jose E. Martinez for preliminary approval. The class alleged that the defendant engaged in systematic overcharging for beef, pork, poultry, fish and other types of packaged foods.
On July 29, 2020, a 69-year-old great-grandmother filed suit in Circuit Court in Orange County Florida against the Walt Disney Company, in addition to other Disney entities and employees, alleging that the defendants attempted to rob her of her physical liberty, her personal dignity and good name after she was arrested for possession of a hemp-based CBD oil while on a family trip to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 2019.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the United States, consumers are relying heavily on cleaning supplies and accompanying advertising of the products’ germ-killing capabilities. On July 31, 2020, class claims were filed in federal court in the Southern District of California against Edgewell Personal Care Company, manufacturer of the popular Wet Ones hand wipes, alleging that the defendant misled consumers in representing that the product kills 99.9% of germs.
On July 7, 2020, class claims were filed in federal court in the Southern District of California against hand sanitizer manufacturer, Vi-Jon Inc., alleging that the defendant actively misled consumers by advertising its products as capable of killing 99.9% of germs.
Post COVID-19 Courtrooms: Breaking Down NJ’s Proposed Court Reopening
As the nation continues to grapple with rising coronavirus infection rates, there have been recent developments in the reopening of the U.S. court system. On July 22, 2020, the New Jersey judiciary announced its plan to resume jury trials in September 2020. Many courts across the nation will look to New Jersey and its efforts to resume in-person courthouse appearances for guidance in reopening.
On July 20, 2020, the Florida Education Association filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court against Florida state governor Ron DeSantis, Florida Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Board of Education and Miami-Dade County Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, alleging that the defendants are violating the Florida state constitution by attempting to recklessly reopen in-person schools in fall 2020.
FeganScott is nationwide class action law firm that specializes in litigation involving sexual abuse, discrimination, consumer fraud and antitrust cases, and describes itself as a powerful ally for consumers and small businesses. Attorney Beth Fegan, along with her husband, Timothy Scott, built the practice from the ground up in 2019. Beth recently spoke to us on the subject of start her own firm and managing employees spread out across the country.
On July 20, 2020, another class action suit was filed against an insurance company over the failure to provide business interruption coverage related to losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. In the suit, filed in federal court in the Southern District of Florida, the operators of the well-known South Florida theater, Miracle Theater, filed an action against General Security of Arizona (“General Security”) and SCOR SE (“SCOR”), alleging that the insurance carriers breached contractual obligations and failed to pay the plaintiff for losses and expenses caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
On July 11, 2020, class claims were filed against upscale grocery giant, Whole Foods Market Group, in federal court in the Southern District of New York, alleging that the grocery chain intentionally misled customers as to the true ingredients of its Unsweetened Organic Vanilla Coconut Milk beverage.
“Take care of yourself,” is a phrase we hear now more than ever, in this strange time of COVID-19. The global pandemic has escalated the notion, both physically and mentally. The word “pandemic” generally alludes to physical illness, but mental health repercussions can in some cases be felt just as strongly as the potential physical effects of illness, as people learn to live with this new sense of isolation from each other.
Organizations across the globe—from the World Health Organization to the CDC—have advised as to the importance of mental health during COVID-19, as people continue to be inundated day and night by an endless 24-hour news cycle and by constantly accessible social media surrounding the spread of the virus. The CDC has advised Americans to “be kind to your mind” during this unprecedented time and offers tips for coping with the resulting stress.
On July 10, 2020, putative class claims were filed in New Jersey federal court against RCN Telecom Services LLC (“RCN”), alleging that the telecom company engaged in a bait-and-switch and billing fraud scheme against its broadband internet customers.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the legal community expressed concern over the possibility that it would result in a significant slowdown in the number of new cases filed, notably class action cases. However, as the country begins to move forward and a “new normal” emerges, legal experts report a significant increase in the number of newly filed-class action lawsuits.
Update from the Experts: A Panel Discussion on Domestic & International Mass Torts, Class Actions and COVID-19 Litigation
On July 1, 2020, the New York State Court Officers Association filed claims against Chief Judge of the State of New York, the Honorable Janet DiFiore, and the New York State Office of Court Administration, alleging that the New York State courthouses failed to provide a safe working location by properly cleaning and sterilizing the court officers’ work environment.
Class claims were filed in federal court in the Western District of Pennsylvania against the City of Pittsburgh and multiple other city officials, including Pittsburgh mayor William Peduto, by a group of protestors who alleged that Pittsburgh police responded to a peaceful protest with undue aggression.
Burns Charest LLP describes itself as a young firm with a dynamic and impressive pedigree. The firm was launched in 2015 and was the culmination of the combined efforts of experienced trial lawyers Warren Burns, Korey Nelson and Dan Charest. Founding member, Warren Burns, recently spoke to us about the challenging process of starting the firm and offered his advice to attorneys looking to take start their own firm.
Considerations Upon Returning to the Courtroom
As the United States court system attempts to slowly move towards pre-pandemic productivity, judiciaries must balance the need to progress pending litigation and keeping Americans safe amid the COVID-19 health crisis. Reopening is taking place in “stages” in many states, each with decreased restrictions as the courts strive to regain full operation. The expansive nature of the American judicial system equates to numerous different policies and precautions implemented, but the following are general measures courts across the country are putting in place as they process the backlog of matters postponed by the pandemic shutdowns.
The battle continues between aviation giant Boeing and a class of pilots who were trained and certified to fly the now grounded 737 MAX jet. Plaintiffs claim their careers have been seriously affected by Boeing’s fraudulent assurances to the aviation community that the jet was safe to fly.
On June 24, 2020, a settlement of over $10 billion was announced by Bayer AG, bringing an end to nearly 75% of the lawsuits involving its glyphosate-based weed killers, including the well-known Roundup® products. In the announcement, Bayer estimated that the settlement will cover all litigations headed by the plaintiff law firms leading the federal multidistrict litigation, in addition to the California state court bellwether cases.
On June 15, 2020, the campaign of former 2020 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, “Bernie 2020,” was served with class claims in Minnesota federal court, alleging that the campaign violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) by sending unsolicited text messages from the Sanders campaign to individuals’ cell phones using an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”).
Counsel Financial President & CEO, Paul Cody, and Managing Director of Strategic Initiatives and Financial Operations, Todd Kushman, were recently guests on a Litigation Finance Journal podcast to discuss the unique financial products offered by Counsel Financial, how they differ from other lenders in the litigation finance industry and the opportunity for partnership among financing companies with differing business models.
In recent months, there has been no shortage of distressing news. An inspiring story on beating the odds from someone who was able to rise above an extraordinarily difficult start to life is a refreshing change. This edition of Women in the Law profiles an extraordinary female attorney who faced hardships that many of us cannot imagine and has come out the other side with an intense determination to succeed.
On June 8, 2020, 3M Company (“3M”) filed trademark counterfeiting claims against Amazon sellers KM Brothers Inc., KMJ Trading Inc., Supreme Sunshine, Inc. and Mao Yu in federal court in the Central District of California Western Division. The suit alleges that the defendants took advantage of the COVID-19 global pandemic and consumers’ need for personal protection equipment (“PPE”) by selling counterfeit 3M branded N-95 masks.
Lawsuits to Watch
As industries across the planet continue to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, the effect on the legal industry resulting from the global shutdown will be substantial, re-shaping the way litigation unfolds in the future. As the court system slowly begins to implement reopening plans with challenging and changing rubrics, the practice of law will need to evolve as well to accord with this “brave new world.”
On June 4, 2020, a group of teachers filed proposed class action claims against actress Reese Witherspoon and her clothing company, Draper James, claiming a promotion that promised free dresses to teachers nationwide allegedly deceived entrants into providing the defendants with sensitive personal information.
On May 29, 2020, CBD company Just Brands USA Inc., known more commonly as JustCBD, was served with putative class claims in federal court in the Central District of California by a group of dissatisfied customers who allege that the company has been selling CBD products that contain less of the active ingredient than stated on its packaging.
On May 29, 2020, New York-based consulting firm Deloitte Consulting, LLP (“Deloitte”) was served with class claims in federal court in the Southern District of New York, alleging that the company failed to take reasonable and adequate measures to secure the personally identifiable information (“PII”) of online unemployment applicants.
*This article is for informational purposes only. Counsel Financial is a business and not a law firm engaged in the practice of law and, as such, cannot provide legal advise.
On May 27, 2020, car rental company Enterprise Leasing Company was served with class claims in federal court in the Middle District of Florida, alleging that the company violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (“WARN Act”), when it terminated hundreds of employees without cause and without sufficient - or any - advanced written notice.
Named plaintiff in the suit Elva Benson had previously worked for Enterprise at the company’s Orlando International Airport location. In mid-March as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to worsen in the United States, Enterprise furloughed plaintiff and hundreds of other employees. At that time, plaintiff argued, Enterprise was well aware that its business was suffering and that the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding stay home orders, would severely inhibit its business. Several weeks after furloughing employees, Enterprise abruptly terminated hundreds of employees in a mass layoff, with no written warning to employees.
On May 19, 2020, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”), announced that it would permanently halt production of its controversial talc-based baby powder throughout the North American market, including in the United States and Canada. In public comments made by the company in the announcement, J&J indicated that the decision was made for economic reasons and not tied to product safety, alluding to the thousands of lawsuits currently facing the company that allege its talc-based products cause cancer and contains asbestos.
Starting your own law firm can be a daunting prospect for even the most experienced attorneys. There are a multitude of significant considerations: how to handle the departure from your current firm, who to bring with you, how to manage the impact on your clients. There are so many components to consider that some lawyers never progress beyond a mere contemplation of their dream to be on their own.
While there is no limit to the information immediately available to us in today’s era of endless technology, there is no substitute for firsthand experience. Regina Calcaterra, Esq., founding partner of Calcaterra Pollack LLP, is the ideal person to advise other attorneys on what it takes to venture out on your own. Regina carries an impressive list of accolades—she specializes in complex federal and state litigation representing public entities, labor, health and welfare funds, businesses and individuals.
On May 13, 2020, another coronavirus-related class action suit was filed against the cruise industry, this time in federal court in the Southern District of Florida against Celebrity Cruise Inc. The suit alleges that the cruise line was aware of the dangerous conditions presented by a COVID-19 outbreak aboard a vessel due to the virus’s ability to rapidly spread, and yet failed to reasonably protect passengers.
On May 11, 2020, class claims were filed against food delivery service Grubhub in Colorado federal court, alleging that the company knowingly promoted a false advertising campaign with the intent to steer users to its partnered restaurants by incorrectly listing on the app that non-partnered restaurants are either closed or not accepting online orders.
On April 27, 2020, two similar proposed class action claims were filed in California federal court against The Regents of the University of California and the Board of Trustees of California State University in the Northern and Central District Courts of California, respectively. The suits allege that the defendants failed to return fees to students that were paid to the educational institutions for services no longer offered due to the shutdown of campuses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On April 30, 2020, actress and budding homeware designer, Drew Barrymore, alongside Walmart and Jet.com, were served with federal copyright infringement claims in the Central District of California. The lawsuit alleges that the retailers offered for sale Barrymore’s Flower Home products, which featured an unauthorized copy of the plaintiff’s unique design.
It’s hard to imagine that just a few short months ago, the thought of American life grinding to a halt seemed unfathomable. And yet, here we all are. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to work from home, a “new normal” has developed since the time that stay-at-home mandates threw us into a chaotic new reality. This new normal has blurred the lines of our work and home lives, as many of us now juggle Zoom meetings from our living rooms in between home schooling children and checking in on our families and friends.
On April 23, 2020, two similar, but separate class action lawsuits were filed in the Southern District of New York and Northern District of New York by students at Columbia University and Cornell University, respectively, alleging that the Ivy League universities failed to reimburse students for tuition, fees and other costs, after the COVID-19 pandemic caused the transition to an online format.
On April 27, 2020, New Jersey District Court Judge Freda L. Wolfson ruled that most of the plaintiffs’ experts in the Talc Multidistrict Litigation (“MDL”) met the stringent scientific requirements of the Daubert standard. The ruling is being hailed as a major victory by the plaintiffs in the suit. Had Judge Wolfson granted in full the defendants' request to bar the plaintiffs’ expert testimony, the MDL would likely have collapsed.
“Do you give up a little liberty to get a little protection?” This rhetorical question was posed by the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Dr. Fauci’s question arose during an April 2020 Snapchat Live interview, in response to the notion that the United States could start to implement digital contact tracing to help limit the spread of COVID-19. According to Dr. Fauci and many public health care experts, digital contact apps will be necessary for the country to gain a firm grasp on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as the nation makes moves towards reopening.
With the ongoing COIVD-19 pandemic continuing to put strains on an already over-burdened American healthcare system, some states have taken steps to ensure that the looming threat of a lawsuit does not stand in the way of medical professionals providing care to the onslaught of patients inundating hospitals. Situations that many healthcare providers are facing during this pandemic, such as a lack of ventilators, medical equipment and supplies, have triggered a need for ventilator triage policies at many hospitals located in the hardest hit areas of the county. The dire circumstances, in some cases, have forced doctors to make judgment calls as to which patient will get a life-saving ventilator, which many have feared will open up a slew of unwanted future lawsuits. The threat of potential lawsuits likely weighs heavily on the minds of healthcare workers, including recent medical school graduates who may not yet have malpractice insurance.
On April 14, 2020, another class action lawsuit was filed against the cruise industry for failure to respond in a timely manner to the threat of COVID-19. The most recent suit was filed in federal court in the Southern District of Florida against Celebrity Cruises, Inc. (“Celebrity”).
On April 7, 2020, class claims were filed against Costa Cruise Lines (“Costa”), owned by Carnival Corporation, in Florida federal court alleging that Costa knowingly subjected over 2,000 passengers aboard the Costa Luminosa to the highly-contagious Coronavirus.
On April 10, 2020, class claims were filed against Six Flags Theme Park Inc., alleging that the company has continued to charge some of its customers monthly membership fees while at the same time prohibiting access to Six Flags’ various theme parks due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
On April 2, 2020, event ticket sales company StubHub Inc., was served with class claims in federal court in the Western District of Wisconsin, that alleged defendant is attempting to profit from the COVID-19 pandemic by refusing to issue cash refunds to customers who purchased tickets through StubHub for events that have been cancelled due to the ongoing crisis.
On March 31, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, Sara L. Ellis, granted class certification to a class of African Americans who argue that defendant Personnel Staffing Group, LLC (d/b/a Most Valuable Personnel (“MVP”)) systematically steered African American workers away from work assignments at defendant Gold Standard Baking Inc. (“GSB”) because of GSB’s discriminatory hiring policy.
On March 30, 2020, class claims were filed in federal court in the Northern District of California against video conferencing provider, Zoom Video Communications, Inc., alleging that the company failed to properly safeguard the personal information of millions of its users.
On March 30, 2020, class claims were filed in New Jersey federal court against Heritage Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (d/b/a Avet Pharmaceuticals Inc.), alleging that the defendant has been manufacturing, distributing and selling the generic medication metformin that contains dangerously high levels of the carcinogen N-nitrosodimethylamine (“NDMA”) which can cause serious damage to the liver.
On March 13, 2020, class claims were filed in federal court in the Southern District of Florida against the People’s Republic of China, National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China, Ministry of Emerging Management of the People’s Republic of China, Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, The People’s Government of Hubli Province and the People’s Government of the City of Wuhan, alleging that the defendants knew that COVID-19 was dangerous and capable of causing a pandemic, yet responded slowly and/or chose not to disclose the health crisis in favor of economic self-interest.
On February 27, 2020, a Miami jury ordered Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”) to pay Florida native, Blanca Moure-Cabrera, $9 million after finding the American multinational corporation caused Moure-Cabrera’s mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos contained in its talcum powder products.
On February 28, 2020, Apple Inc. (“Apple”) submitted a $500 million proposed settlement to Northern California district court Judge Edward J. Davila for preliminary approval, bringing an end to a multidistrict litigation (“MDL”) between the tech giant and iPhone users who accuse the defendant of releasing software updates that purposefully slowed down older versions of the iPhone.
On February 24, 2020, an $18.6 million proposed settlement was submitted to Utah federal court judge David Nuffer for preliminary approval, with regard to class claims that trucking company C.R. England, Inc., prompted would-be commercial truck drivers into enrolling in a $5,000 for profit, in-house commercial truck driving school with false guarantees that students would become employed with the company after graduation from the program.
On February 6, 2020, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a New Jersey jury to pay four plaintiffs $750 million in punitive damages in the talc litigations. The punitive damages award, which was later reduced in accordance with New Jersey state law by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Ama C. Visomi to $186 million, comes on the heels of a separate jury trial awarding the plaintiffs $37.3 million in compensatory damages in September 2019.
On February 11, 2020, class claims were filed in New Jersey Superior Court against popular fashion retailer, Old Navy and its outlet store, alleging that the store engaged in a uniform policy of displaying fictitious purported “original” prices, as well as false “sale” prices and percentage-off discounts in advertising, marketing, and sale of apparel in stores.
On February 10, 2020, a proposed class action was filed in New York Supreme Court, New York County, against Baby Brezza Enterprises LLC, the manufacturer of automatic baby formula mixing machines Baby Brezza Formula Pro and Formula Pro Advanced, alleging that the products in question failed to perform as advertised.
What is a key component to becoming an effective attorney? If you ask people who aren’t attorneys, they will say a love of arguing makes a good lawyer. And how many times have you encountered a proud parent who insists their child is destined for the courtroom because they argue with their parents constantly? But is that what makes a good lawyer in reality? Most lawyers would say that, while being able to formulate a strong argument is a crucial part of the profession, being empathetic to the issues facing others and effective listening are the best traits for a strong client advocate. So, while a love of debating is what often draws students into law school, it is a love of justice and the desire to help others that makes them into successful counsel. Attorney Kelly Reed embodies all of these points of view.
On February 3, 2020, attorneys for the retail superstore, Walmart, petitioned U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte, Jr. to enter a judgment as a matter of law in favor of the company, thus attempting to undo a $6.1 million jury verdict awarded to a class of Walmart employees who had alleged that they were discouraged from taking outside meal breaks when Walmart required workers to leave through a metal detector. In its bid for a favorable judgment as a matter of law, Walmart argued that the plaintiffs failed to prove these allegations.
January 27, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and New York attorney general Letitia James filed suit against erstwhile CEO and convicted felon, Martin Shkreli of Turing (Vyera) Pharmaceuticals and Retrophin, and his co-founder Kevin Mulleady, over an alleged scheme to preserve a monopoly on the drug Daraprim.
On January 27, 2020, animation company Pixar was served with copyright infringement claims in federal court in the Northern District of California by San Francisco-based artist and tattooist Sweet Cicely Daniher, who alleged that Pixar directly copied the make, model, exterior color scheme, interior color scheme and exterior mural of her 1972 Chevrolet G10 van in the upcoming film, Onward.
On January 13, 2020, opening arguments commenced for a case involving a former Ford Motor Company (“Ford”) employee who claims his ex-employer gave managers “free reign” to provide Caucasian employees preferential treatment in their requests for overtime hours. The plaintiff claims that Ford’s acts are not only discriminatory, but that Ford would retaliate against any employee who complained about company practices.
On January 10, 2020, plaintiffs in an action against TurboTax parent company, Intuit, made a motion in federal court in the Northern District of California for class certification, partial summary adjudication and entry of final injunctive relief.
January 14, 2020, Amazon-owned audiobook provider Audible has reached a preliminary settlement agreement with a group of the largest US book publishers over a planned expansion feature that would give customers access to closed captions for audiobooks.
On January 2, 2020, chocolate manufacturer Hershey Co. and its newly acquired subsidiary, One Brands, were served with putative class claims in federal court in the Southern District of California, alleging that the defendants’ had engaged in deceptive marketing, advertising and labeling of its ONE protein bars.
On December 18, 2019, a proposed $27 million settlement was submitted to Florida federal court Judge Paul G. Byron for preliminary approval, bringing an end to class claims between more than 250,000 Geico customers and the insurance provider. The alleged claims arose from customers who filed insurance claims with Geico for damaged cars declared “totaled” and were denied coverage for approximately $80 in fees when registering a new vehicle.
Endo International, PLC, an Irish generics and specialty branded pharmaceutical company, generates over 90% of its sales exclusively from the United States healthcare system. The company’s second largest source of revenue, the narcotic “Opana,” was marketed to shareholders in 2006 after Endo applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to have the drug labeled as abuse-deterrent.
Lawsuits are no laughing matter…unless they are. Some lawsuits deal with complex legal concepts and far-reaching societal implications, while some have a man attempting to sue his boss for passing too much gas. With another decade in the books, we take a look back at some of the most outrageous and hilarious lawsuits over the last 10 years.
Tik-Tok, the video-sharing social networking service that has taken youth by storm, recently was the target of a lawsuit alleging that it collected and shared personally identifiable information about children under the age of 13. On December 6, 2019, a proposed class of parents and children asked an Illinois federal court to approve a $1.1 million settlement to resolve alleged claims.
On December 2, 2019, a group of members of the United States Military and their spouses filed a class action suit in federal court in the Middle District of Florida alleging that The Michaels Organization, LLC, Michaels Management Services, Inc., Interstate Realty Management Company, AMC East Communities, LLC, Clark Capital Realty LLC and Harbor Bay at MacDill (“the defendants”), failed to properly develop, build, maintain and manage housing at the MacDill Air Force Base after hazardous mold was discovered in their properties.
On November 23, 2019, Mars Inc., makers of the popular M&M brand ice cream products, is facing class claims in federal court in the Southern District of New York over allegations that it mislabels the flavoring of its ice cream treats and is in essence committing “food fraud.”
On November 18, 2019, was with class action claims were filed in federal court in the Southern District of Florida, against fast-food giant Burger King, alleging that the restaurant’s new meat alternative “Impossible Whopper” burgers are not truly vegan.
On November 18, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge for the Central District of California, Stephen V. Wilson, denied billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s bid to throw out defamation claims against him made by famed British cave diver Vernon Unsworth, who Musk referred to as “pedo guy” in a July 2018 tweet.
On November 8, 2019, U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California, R. Gary Klausner, granted class certification to the U.S. Senior Women’s National Soccer Team (“WNT”) in its suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation Inc.
The action was filed on March 8, 2019, just months before the team’s historic World Cup victory, naming all 28 current WNT players as named plaintiffs. In the complaint, the players claim that the U.S. Soccer Federation is in violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that the defendant’s pay structure is unfair to the women’s team in comparison to the less successful men’s league.
On November 8, 2019, a $5.4 million settlement was submitted to California federal court Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel for preliminary approval, bringing an ended to claims that the juice-making giant, Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. conceals the true quality of the ingredients in certain of the brand’s juice-based beverages.
On October 31, 2019, Facebook, Inc. was served with proposed class claims in the Northern District of California alleging that the company discriminates against older and female Facebook users who were purportedly denied the opportunity to receive advertising and information about financial services opportunities.
On October 8, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a bid by the Los Angeles Rams to stay the vicious legal battle with its former hometown of St. Louis over the NFL team’s abrupt relocation from Missouri to California. The city of St. Louis is seeking to recoup millions of dollars spent in an effort to keep the team in its city.
October 29, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit revived a suit accusing pop-superstar Taylor Swift of plagiarizing lyrics for her 2014 hit song “Shake it Off.” The complaint accused Swift of illegally copying a “six-word phrase and a four-part lyrical sequence from [Sean] Hall’s Playas Gon’ Play (2001),” which was performed by 3LW.
On October 24, 2019, Goodyear Tire & Rubber company (“Goodyear”) filed suit in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that an Illinois punk rock band, The Goodyear Pimps (“The Pimps” or “the band”), has been improperly using Goodyear’s trademarked winged foot design logo and the company’s famous Goodyear Blimp image on the band’s merchandise, Facebook page and website.
October 15, 2019, Walmart agreed to a $14 million settlement with an Illinois Class of pregnant and formerly pregnant employees who claimed the company’s policies on disability accommodations discriminated against them based on their pregnant status.
On October 4, 2019, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld an $800,000 jury verdict over doctors’ failure to diagnose a foot condition, holding that the questions examined by jurors did not move into the territory of asking them to walk a mile in the plaintiff’s shoes.
On October 3 2019, two women filed suit against former Spiderman trilogy star, James Franco, in a proposed class action over allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at his now shuttered acting and film school.
On September 23, 2019, a group of former students of the now defunct for-profit Charlotte School of Law (“CSL”), filed suit against their would-be alma mater and its parent company, Sterling Capital Partners (“Sterling”), in Illinois state court.
On September 20, 2019, class claims were filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois against breast implant manufacturer Allergan alleging that the defendant’s BIOCELL textured saline- and silicone-filled breast implants cause an increased risk of developing breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (“BIA-ALCL”).
On September 6, 2019, well known, controversial rapper Chris Brown and the production company that produced one of Brown’s 2017 music videos, Majestic Hour Production Inc., were served with a suit from a former music video back-up dancer in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging that she was injured on the set of the video.
On September 16, 2019, a proposed class action was filed in the Southern District of California against General Motors (“GM”), alleging that GM concealed a known defect from its U.S. customers who purchased or leased certain Cadillac models equipped with GM’s Cadillac User Experience navigation/radio touch screen display (“CUE System”).
September 11, 2019, a Connecticut Superior Court Judge Carl Schuman upheld a $542,464 verdict against pharmaceutical giant, Boehringer Ingelheim, originally awarded in May 2019 in the ongoing Pradaxa litigation.
The suit was originally filed in May 2016 by plaintiff Eugene Roberto. Plaintiff alleged that Boehringer Ingelheim’s label for its popular blood thinning drug Pradaxa, did not adequately warn about the risk of bleeding. The suit, which by this time was merged with the Pradaxa multidistrict litigation (“MDL”), was selected by the plaintiffs’ steering committee to go to trial as a bellwether case.
On September 9, 2019, a proposed class of investors filed a complaint in the Supreme Court of the State of New York against Sundial Growers over its $143 million IPO. Named plaintiff, Trisha Peters, filed the complaint after news surfaced regarding a defective order of cannabis that contained visible mold, parts of rubber gloves and “other non-cannabis material,” according to the complaint.
In today’s world of social media influencers and so-called self-help gurus, it has suddenly become trendy to be focused on self-care, meditation and mindfulness. However that same world, combined with constant communication, has made our lives busier than ever often resulting in relegating self-care to the bottom of our to-do lists. This can be especially true for working mothers who want to give their all to both their career and their family, often putting themselves last in the order of importance. But self-care isn’t just a passing fad—it is an important part of modern life and is crucial to living a well-balanced life. In this edition of Women in the Law, we profile a successful attorney who has made self-care and meditation central to her day-to-day life.
On August 13 2019, a three-judge panel in New Jersey’s appellate court rejected condominium developer K. Hovnanian’s bid to have architectural firm RTKL pay its share of a $4 million jury verdict. The panel found that RTKL should not pay Hovnanian’s $3 million share of the jury verdict for its decision to push construction forward on a 132-unit condominium despite knowing the plywood used was not flame retardant.
On August 26, 2019, Oklahoma state court Judge Thad Balkman found Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”) responsible for causing the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and ordered that J&J must pay $572 million to repair the damage. This ruling comes almost six weeks after the conclusion of a seven-week bench trial, where state attorneys successfully proved J&J and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., created a public nuisance by overstating the benefits of narcotic painkillers while downplaying the risk for addiction.
On August 13 2019, cosmetic company Younique agreed to a $3.25 million settlement, ending class action claims alleging that the company falsely marketed its mascara product as containing “natural fibers.” The settlement fund’s purpose is to make payments to customers in 11 states who bought the “Moodstruck 3D Fiber Lashes” between 2012 and 2015 based upon the assumption Younique used natural fibers in the production of the lashes.
On August 19, 2019, punitive class claims were filed in Texas District Court against Enterprise Products Partners LP, Oiltanking Partners LP and CenterPoint Energy. alleging that the defendants’ actions severely damaged class members’ property and diminished property values in surrounding areas.
On August 2, 2019, a group of dissatisfied customers filed a motion for class certification in federal court in the Eastern District of Illinois. Plaintiffs are seeking a 17-state potential class action against cosmetics retail giant Ulta Beauty.
On July 19, 2019, a group of young adults filed suit against the popular vape pen manufacturer, JUUL, in California state Superior Court, County of San Francisco, alleging that the company targets nonsmoking youth with their marketing tactics in order to create a new generation of life-long nicotine addicts.
On July 22, 2019, American automotive giant Ford Motors Co. was hit with a staggering $1.2 billion putative class action lawsuit in Michigan federal court alleging that Ford manipulated its coastdown testing and used inaccurate drag and resistant figures to boost the vehicles’ EPA mileage ratings, making the vehicles more appealing to potential buyers.
On July 17, 2019, ConAgra Grocery Products Company, Sherwin Williams and NL Industries came to an agreement with ten counties in California that alleged the companies’ lead-based paint was the cause for a public health crisis in California. The settlement brings to an end nearly 20 years of litigation and demands each company pay a sum of $101,666,666.67—totaling $305 million—to be paid to the plaintiffs. The settlement states that the monies will be used “to address public health hazards, bodily injury, personal injuries, and property damage related to Lead Paint.”
On July 11, 2019, a California state appeals court found that a jury had heard erroneous instructions involving a plaintiff who hit a freeway barrier to avoid an errant flying mattress. The appellate panel found that the lower court erred in permitting a special exception that “excuses law violations if a defendant can prove it tried but could not comply with the law.”
On June 28, 2019, a Philadelphia jury awarded $500,000 to plaintiff Linda Dunfee, against Johnson & Johnson, which was found liable for design defects in a pelvic mesh implant that left plaintiff in severe pain. This marks the ninth verdict against Johnson & Johnson and in favor of plaintiffs injured by pelvic mesh design defects.
On July 5, 2019, BMW of North America LLC was met with proposed class claims in New Jersey federal court alleging that the company placed their customers in harm’s way by selling motorcycles with defective gear indicators; which, in turn heightened the risk of accidents, as well as opening the door to other safety issues. Named plaintiff Daniel Casey argued that the gear indicators in the motorcycle intermittently displayed the wrong gear or no gear at all. This phenomenon has been a point of a complaint by numerous customers, according to Casey.
On June 28, 2019, online fashion website Fashion Nova Inc., was served with class claims in federal court in the Southern District of Florida by a group of plaintiffs alleging that the company violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) by negligently and willfully contacting consumer’s cell phones and therefore invading their privacy.
Photo by Gavin Whitner
On June 21, 2019, a group of music industry heavyweights filed a proposed class action suit against UMG Recordings Inc. (“UMG”) in California federal court alleging that the recording company negligently stored artists’ Master Recordings in an inadequate and substandard storage warehouse located on the backlot of Universal Studios that was a known firetrap.
On June 19, 2019, an $8.2 million settlement was proposed to California federal court Judge M. James Lorenz for preliminary approval, bringing an end to class claims that superstore chain Target Corp. (“Target”) engaged in deceptive marketing practices in the promotion of its Target REDCard.
On June 13, 2019, California federal court Judge Edward J. Davila granted preliminary approval for a $2.5 million settlement between The Coca-Cola Co. (“Coca-Cola”) and a proposed class of consumers who accused Coca-Cola of misleading consumers as to the true ingredients of its popular Seagram’s Ginger Ale products.
On June 12, 2019, premium humane milk producer Fairlife LLC was served with proposed class claims in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois claiming that the company engages in deceptive marketing tactics.
In the complaint, named plaintiff Andrew Schwartz and Alice Vitiello ague that Fairlife intentionally deceives customers into believing that the company treats its cows humanely in order to charge consumers a premium price for the product. Fairlife has built a brand image as a responsible, humane producer of milk and has boasted that its cows have comfortable sand beds and that freestanding stalls are provided to allow the cows constant care and relaxation.
On June 6, 2019, a $210 million settlement that brought a close to a multidistrict litigation (“MDL”) between Hyundai Motor America Inc. and a nationwide class of consumers who alleged that Hyundai, and its affiliate Kia Motors America, misrepresented the fuel economy on certain 2011, 2012, and 2013 vehicles including the popular Elantra and Sonata, was affirmed by an 8-3 en banc Ninth Circuit decision.
On May 31, 2019, Missouri federal judge Stephen R. Bough granted preliminary approval for a $15.25 million settlement between drugstore giant CVS and a class of its customer telephone service representatives.
Named plaintiffs in the suit, Timothy Woods and Kimberly Gibson, filed class claims against CVS in July 2014, alleging that CVS was depriving call center employees of proper compensation by requiring them to power up their computers and upload applications before officially clocking into work and starting their paid work day.
On May 24, 2019, class claims were filed in Maryland federal court against General Motors LLC (“GM”) alleging that the American car maker knowingly sold and leased thousands of 2016-2018 Chevy Malibu vehicles (“class vehicles”) equipped with a defective electronic throttle control and/or accelerator pedal position sensor.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that most people have, at some point in their lives, felt pressure to conform to an expectation that society has arbitrarily levied upon them. This is especially true for women. As women, we are constantly bombarded with contradictory representations in the media and on television of how the perfect modern woman should look and act. When it comes to the idealized image of the female attorney, generally the message is the same—she is aggressive, she is loud and she is always impeccably dressed and coifed. This image seldom bears any real resemblance to the actual women who spend their days tirelessly fighting for their clients and trying to change the tides of gender inequality in the legal field. This month, we spoke with attorney Brenda S. Fulmer to get her perspective on the challenges facing the modern female attorney—her answers were refreshing and hopeful for the future.
On May 21, 2019, it was announced that Starbucks is facing two separate lawsuits in federal court in the Southern District of New York and New York State Supreme Court, respectively, both of which allege that Starbucks has been exposing both its employees and customers to a well-known toxin at several of its Manhattan locations.
On May 14, 2019, cosmetics giant L’Oreal USA Inc. (“L’Oreal”) was served with class claims in federal court in the Southern District of New York by consumers who allege that the company intentionally mislead consumers as to the true ingredients in L’Oreal Ever Sleek Keratin Caring products.
On May 15, 2019, a group of physically disabled New York City residents filed proposed class claims against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“MTA”) and the New York City Transit Authority alleging that the defendants are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by failing to install elevators or other stair-free routes in New York City subway stations.
On May 7, 2019, former employees of local hospitals in Newark, New Jersey owned by Cathedral Healthcare System, filed class claims against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark alleging that the Archdiocese deprived around 135 former hospital employees of at least $2.7 million in lifetime pension payments.
On May 7, 2019, electronics giant LG Electronics USA Inc. (“LGEUS”) was served with class claims in New Jersey federal court alleging that the company violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
In the complaint, plaintiff Misa Choi claimed that the defendant company fraudulently classified herself, and her fellow class members, as exempt from overtime premium payments by regularly issuing so called “paper promotions” to entry-level associates. LGEUS’s “paper promotions” nominally promoted entry-level associates to assistant managers without modifying the employees’ responsibilities, authorities or tasks assigned to them. As a result, plaintiff argued that the defendant actively encouraged employees to mistakenly consider themselves management and therefore exempt from, and not entitled to, overtime payments.
On May 2, 2019, federal judge for the Northern District of California Elizabeth D. Laporte, rejected defendant Amazon.com Inc.’s (“Amazon”) bid to dismiss claims that the online retail giant has infringed upon and diluted Williams-Sonoma’s service mark and engaged in unfair competition by marketing Williams-Sonoma products for resale on its website.
On April 29, 2019, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld a $2,236,850.28 verdict awarded to a Georgia man who fell 10 feet through an open hatch on a Golden Isles Cruise Lines casino boat in December 2014.
In its appeal, Golden Isles argued that the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment because the one-year contractual limitations period governing the plaintiff’s claim expired before he filed his lawsuit. However, the court found that the reason for the plaintiff’s delay was as a result of the owner of Golden Isles, who was a long-time friend of the plaintiff, and the company’s insurance adjuster, insisting that they would “take real good care” of the plaintiff.
On April 25, 2019, class claims were filed against popular bubble tea chain Vivi Bubble Tea Inc., in the Eastern District of New York, alleging that the company failed to design, construct, maintain and operate their website to be fully accessible and independently usable to consumers that are blind or vision impaired in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
On April 23, 2019, in the wake of substantial media coverage surrounding the alleged attack on Empire actor Jussie Smollett, the two brothers accused of perpetrating the supposed hate crime filed suit against Smollett’s attorneys. The brothers are claiming that the legal team defamed them by continuing to insist in the media that the brothers committed a hate crime. Smollett was represented by Tina Glandian and Mark Geragos.
On April 19, 2019, class claims were filed in federal court in the Southern District of California against the world’s largest food company, Nestlé USA Inc. (“Nestlé”). The suit alleges that Nestlé has “been making its chocolate fortune off the backs of child labor and child slave labor in West Africa.”
On April 16, 2019, class claims were filed against famed motorcycle manufacturer, Harley Davidson Motor Company (“Harley Davidson”) in federal court in the Northern District of California. The suite alleges that the company knowingly sold tens of thousands of motorcycles with a hidden and dangerous defect in its anti-lock braking system (“ABS”).
On April 12, 2019, two concerned mothers filed class claims in federal court in Utah against Owlet Baby Care Inc. the makers of the popular Smart Sock baby monitor, alleging that the company intentionally misled and deceived consumers as to the true nature of its product.
On April 12, 2019, class claims were filed against Young Living Essential Oils in Texas federal court by a company representative who claimed that the company is operating under a “pyramid scheme” business model.
In today’s world of the 24-hour news cycle and the instantaneous publishing power of social media, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to judge what is fact from mere conjecture. At times, it feels like we live in a culture where jumping to conclusions and making broad generalizations has become de rigueur. The subject of this month’s edition of Women in the Law, San Francisco attorney Lori Andrus, is of the opinion that in order to succeed and to make strides, women need to be aware of this potential pitfall and become the most prepared and knowledgeable person in the room.
On April 5, 2019, proposed class claims were filed in Delaware federal court against popular on-demand food delivery service DoorDash Inc. A group of plaintiffs alleged that the company unlawfully collected sales tax from customers in states that do not permit the collection of sales taxes, including New Hampshire, Delaware and Montana.
On April 3, 2019, litigation was commenced against the makers of the popular iced tea brand, Arizona Tea, in federal court in the Eastern District of New York, alleging that the company intentionally misled consumers as to the true ingredients of its Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey.
On April 3, 2019, Earl Enterprises Holdings Inc. (“EEH”), the owner of popular chain restaurants such as Earl of Sandwich, Buca di Beppo and Planet Hollywood, was sued in federal court in the Middle District of Florida, wherein a proposed class of plaintiffs alleged that the company failed to exercise reasonable care in securing and safeguarding its customers’ sensitive personal information. EEH had announced that it experienced a year long data breach affecting customers’ names, credit card numbers and expiration dates and security code numbers.
On March 27, 2019, popular American chain restaurant TGI Friday’s Inc. (“Friday’s”) was served with class claims in New York federal court alleging that the brand intentionally misleads and deceives health-conscious consumers into believing that Friday’s “Potato Skins” snacks actually contain real potato skins.
On March 22, 2019, a group of former students of the now defunct Charlotte School of Law filed suit against the owners of the for-profit former law school, Sterling Capital Partners, in Illinois federal court. The suit alleges that the defendant recklessly attempted to increase the school’s enrollment, revenue and profit by decreasing admissions and curricular standards leading to the school’s loss of accreditation by the American Bar Association (“ABA”) and the eventual closure of the school.
On March 21, 2019, American beer giant Miller Coors LLC, filed suit against rival brewing company Anheuser-Busch in federal court in the Western District of Wisconsin alleging that Anheuser-Busch premiered a false and intentionally misleading advertising campaign during the 2019 Super Bowl. Plaintiff claims that the ad deceived consumers into believing they were consuming corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (“HFCS”) when drinking Miller Lite and Coors Light beers.
On March 15, 2019, a Brooklyn-based high-end puppet designer filed suit against popular pop band Fall Out Boy, in federal court in the Southern District of New York, alleging that the band infringed and exploited its copyrights and intellectual property by making the new face of the band two highly identifiable llama puppets, created by the plaintiff.
On March 14, 2019, a group of parents and current university students filed class claims in federal court in the Northern District of California against the perpetrators of recent elite college admission cheating scandals, in addition to naming several of the involved schools as defendants.
On March 12, 2019, a $4.2 million settlement was submitted to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle for final approval, bringing an end to a proposed class of housekeepers employed by Marriott International Inc. (“Marriott”) who alleged that the hotel chain violated California Labor Code §226.7, 226(a) and 2698 and violated the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act when it failed to provide class members rest periods during the work day.
On March 11, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of New York, Brian M. Cogan, granted preliminary approval of a $1.5 million settlement between Consumer Goods Inc., the makers of Purex laundry detergents and a class of consumers who alleged that the company intentionally misled customers through the marketing, labeling and advertising of Purex products as containing “natural elements” despite the products including synthetic ingredients.
On March 1, 2019, preliminary approval was granted for a $2.9 million settlement by U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Ohio Western Division, in the Snap Fitness membership fees class action.
On February 27, 2019, class claims were filed against the John McEnroe Tennis Academy (the “Academy”) in New York federal court by a disgruntled former driver who alleged that the defendant institution, along with its owners and day-to-day overseers, failed to adequately compensate Academy drivers for overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).
On February 25, 2019, BeSweet Creations LLC, manufacturer of the popular gummy bear vitamin supplements “Sugar Bear Hair,” filed suit in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida against rival supplement producer, TrueReflections Inc., alleging that the company violated the Federal Trademark Act (Lanham Act).
Fielding a litany of questions when sharing what you do for a living is a familiar situation for many. The day-to-day grind of life as an attorney often does not reflect the excitement portrayed in television legal dramas. For attorney Karen Beyea-Schroeder, however, the early years of her career played out like a well-paced episode of the late 1990s legal program, JAG.
On February 13, 2019, class claims were filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York against celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich alleging that Bastianich’s New York City restaurant, Felidia, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by requiring employees to work in excess of 40 hours per week without appropriate minimum wage, overtime and spread of hours compensation for the hours they worked.
On February 14, 2019, State Street Global Advisors Trust Company (“SSGA”), the sponsors of the world famous “Fearless Girl” statue filed suit against Kristin Visbal (sculptor of the iconic statue) in New York State court. SSGA alleges that the artist has been selling unauthorized replicas of the statue causing irreparable harm to not only Fearless Girl and her message but also to SSGA, its reputation and its rights.
On February 8, 2019, class claims were filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York against the makers of the popular Drizzilicious line of snack foods, alleging that the company, Snack Innovations Inc., mislabeled its products in such a way as to intentionally mislead consumers with respect to the ingredients contained by the products.
On February 8, 2019, a $3.2 million settlement was submitted to Northern California federal court Judge Jeffrey S. White for preliminary approval, bringing an end to class claims that accused energy company Chevron Corp., of misclassifying drill-site managers as independent contractors.
On January 30, 2019, well-known model Carmen Electra, along with fellow models Lucy Pinder and Dessie Mitcheson, filed suit in Colorado federal court against Denver strip club, Shotgun Willie’s, alleging that the defendant violated the Lanham Act by using the plaintiffs’ images in club promotions.
On January 23, 2019, Epic Games Inc. (“Epic”), creator of the popular video game Fortnite, was served with claims that the game-maker misappropriated the signature dance moves of professional rapper Blocboy JB, known as “The Shoot.”
On January 24, 2019, U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., granted initial approval to a $24 million settlement between the former NFL team, the St. Louis Rams, and a class of football fans who purchased personal seat licenses (“PSLs”) during the Rams’ last season in St. Louis in 2014, shortly before the team was moved to Los Angeles.
On January 17, 2019, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York, Analisa Torres, granted approval of a $9 million settlement between a class of consumers and Premier Nutrition Corp., the manufacturer of Premier Protein shakes.
On January 7, 2019, class claims were filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York against celebrity chef Chris Santos and his business partners, who collectively own the well-known upscale New York City restaurant and lounge, Beauty and Essex. In the lawsuit, a group of former busboys and barbacks claim that the restaurant violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and New York Labor Law.
On January 4, 2019, a $5.4 million settlement was submitted to Northern California District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers for preliminary approval. The settlement will bring to a close class claims alleging that defendant ABM Services Inc. (“ABM”), violated Section 2802 of the California Labor Code, the Private Attorneys General Act and the Unfair Business Practices Act, when it required its employees to use personal cell phones for work-related purposes without reimbursement.
On January 3, 2019, North Carolina federal judge Catherine C. Eagles granted approval for a $1.3 million settlement to end class claims between rideshare giant Uber Technologies Inc. and a class of more than 5,000 Uber drivers who allege that Uber misclassified them as independent contractors.
On December 17, 2018, actor Alfonso Ribeiro, well known for his role as Will Smith’s loveable preppy cousin, Carlton Banks, on the hit 1990s television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, filed two separate lawsuits in California federal court against videogame makers Epic Games and Take-Two Interactive alleging that the companies illegally used Ribeiro’s signature dance move “The Carlton.”
On December 17, 2018, a $2.4 million settlement was submitted to Connecticut federal court Judge Robert N. Chatigny for approval, bringing a close to class claims against pharmaceutical giant Jonson & Johnson (“J&J”) alleging that the company intentionally mislead customers as to the quality of certain J&J baby products.
In the mass tort realm, 2018 proved to be a year of high-volume verdicts and settlements coupled with highly publicized cases. As the year comes to a close, here is a look back at some of the noteworthy cases that saw significant developments over the past 12 months.
On December 11, 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had reached a $3 million settlement agreement with Target Corp., bringing an end to whistleblower claims that Target pharmacies in Massachusetts automatically refilled prescriptions of Massachusetts Medicaid beneficiaries without an explicit request for each refill by the beneficiary. The suit alleges the actions were in violation of Massachusetts Medicaid regulation 130 CMR 406. 411 (c)(6) and the U.S. False Claims Act.
On December 4, 2018, class claims were filed in New York federal court against celebrity watering holes Rose Bar and Jade Bar. Female employees allege that the popular bars inside New York City’s exclusive Gramercy Park Hotel violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor laws.
On December 7, 2018, class claims were filed against cereal giant Kellogg Co. in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California alleging that the company’s popular Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Soft Baked Breakfast Bars (Strawberry) and Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereal contain the probable carcinogen glyphosate.
On December 4, 2018, the fate of a famous painting by Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro was the focus of arguments in Los Angeles federal court. Rue Saint-Honore in the Afternoon. Effect of Rain, the painting in question, has a long and storied past dating back to 1930s Germany and is currently said to be valued at around $30 million. The plaintiffs in the suit, the Cassirer family, argue that the painting rightfully belongs to them and not Madrid’s Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, where it has been on display since it was acquired from a Swiss collector in 1988. In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege that the painting was illegally confiscated from Lilly Cassirer in 1939 by Nazi officials as she was fleeing Germany The plaintiffs argued that the confiscation was in violation of several international laws. After the painting was illegally obtained, it was next traced to the collection of a New York art dealer, then to a Swiss collector who eventually sold it to the defendant.
On November 26, 2018, a $1billion lawsuit was filed in California federal court against Walt Disney Company (“Disney”) and Fox Entertainment LLC (“Fox”) by renowned Asian resort developer, Genting Malaysia Berhad (“GENM”). The plaintiff alleges it entered into agreements with Fox in 2013 to build a theme park called “Fox World,” which was to become the centerpiece of Resorts World Genting, an integrated resort complex in Genting Highlands, Malaysia. Court documents note that Fox will soon be acquired by Disney. Resorts World Genting is the only legal land-based casino in Malaysia and the resort complex attracts over 23 million tourists a year. The resort includes seven hotels, performance venues, shopping malls, gondola lifts, an indoor Snow World attraction, a bio park, temple, bowling alley and arcade, as well as restaurants, bars and clubs.
Don’t be afraid to be who you are—a sentiment often promulgated among young people by teachers, parents and ad campaigns hoping to encourage confidence in one’s own skin. But sometimes that is easier said than done. As we get older and more experienced, we may consciously, or subconsciously, temper our personality to fit societal expectations, particularly in a professional setting. Women have an especially fine line to tread in the professional arena, most notably in male-dominated professions such as the law. When you meet a woman who stands out from the crowd and who is unapologetically herself, you can’t help but admire her for the trail she is blazing for all women in the legal industry.
Fresh off the heels of the successful first run of the show “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” Netflix has settled claims by a religious group called the Satanic Temple stemming from the show’s usage of a “androgynous goat-headed deity” image. The figure is featured prominently in the “Academy of the Unseen Arts,” a fictional satanic school which the titular character attends. Plaintiffs allege the image is used to represent the evil antagonists of the series and in doing so, violates a trademark held by the Satanic Temple.
An $18.9 million settlement has been reached in the National Hockey League (“NHL”) concussion multidistrict litigation (“MDL”). Plaintiffs in the MDL similarly allege that while playing professional hockey for one or more of the Member Clubs or the NHL, they were subjected to head trauma and/or injuries and/or brain trauma and/or injuries and that these injuries have caused, or may cause a variety of neurodegenerative, cognitive, emotional, and/or mental health conditions.
On November 8, 2018, Australian songwriters Sean Carey and Beau Golden filed proposed settlement documents with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, bringing an end to copyright infringement claims between the plaintiffs and well-known music super stars Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Ed Sheeran.