This article originally appeared in Bloomberg BNA.

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When Subway faced a class action over its “footlong” sandwiches coming up short, a quick settlement seemed like a good bet. Instead the case became a memorable example of how the courts and the Justice Department are cracking down on settlements that often

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Two years into the Trump Administration and:

  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission finally has a Republican majority,
  • the Department of Transportation has released its 3.0 guidance on autonomous vehicles,
  • NIST has published a 375 page recommendation on medical

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Earlier this summer, President Trump nominated Republican Peter Feldman to serve as the fifth commissioner on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The Senate has now confirmed Mr. Feldman to both (1) serve out the remainder of former Commissioner Joe Mohorovic’s term, which expires in October 2019; and (2)

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Recent years have seen federal courts applying increased scrutiny to proposed “multistate” class actions that invoke a hodgepodge of state consumer-protection laws. The main reason: The variations among these state laws are not only extensive but often case-determinative, preventing class representatives from proving their claims on a classwide basis.

These decisions have, in turn, raised another question that has divided judges, commentators, and practitioners: Does the same high bar apply to the certification of nationwide classes that are purely vehicles for settlement—meaning that the court will never have to address the practical and legal difficulties of managing an actual classwide trial involving fifty (or more) state laws? In late January the Ninth Circuit weighed in to answer that it does, in a potentially seminal opinion that could, in the words of one dissenting judge, strike a “major blow” to multistate class action settlements.


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Surveys play an increasingly important role in consumer class actions, whether used to deny class certification, defeat plaintiffs’ allegations of consumer “deception,” or even refute damages arguments.

Recently, beverage giant Starbucks Corp. defeated a proposed class action alleging that Starbucks had violated consumer protection statutes in California, Florida, and New York by uniformly filling its lattes and mochas with more foam – and less actual beverage – than a reasonable consumer would expect. In dismissing the case on summary judgment and denying class certification as moot, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers for the Northern District of California focused on the plaintiffs’ flawed survey results. Strumlauf et al. v. Starbucks Corp., No. 16-CV-01306-YGR, 2018 WL 306715 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 5, 2018). The plaintiffs had introduced an expert report presenting the results of two surveys purporting to show that 70-80% of consumers expected that the “Promised Beverage Volume” of Starbucks lattes did not include foam. The first survey showed respondents a sample menu board with small, medium, and large and asked how many fluid ounces of beverage they expected to receive. This survey was flawed, the court found, because it did not measure consumers’ understanding of what “fluid ounce” means. The second survey showed images of a cup with varying amounts of fluid and foam and then asked which “medium 16 fl. oz. beverage” the respondents expected to receive. This survey, too, fell short because it showed a “caricatured image” and “the ‘question begg[ed] its answer [and was] not a true indicator of the likelihood of consumer confusion.’” In sum, the Court attacked the surveys as “leading and suggestive” and ultimately found they failed to establish a triable issue on consumer deception.


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Baker’s dozen = 13 (not 12)

Easy.

Foot = 12 inches (the length of the average man’s foot)

Of course. I learned this in the second grade.

2 by 4 = 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches  

What?

4 by 4 = 3 ½ inches by 3 ½ inches

No way.

5/4 inches by 4 inches = 1 1/8 inches by 3 ½ inches

Mind. Blown… unless you’re a carpenter or in the construction industry.


In the United States, softwood lumber is governed by the American Softwood Lumber Standard which was developed by the American Lumber Standard Committee, in accordance with the Procedures for the Development of Voluntary Product Standards of the U.S. Department of Commerce. That’s a mouth full. However, the lumber standard is a government-approved codification of longstanding industry practices. And, while dimensional lumber is cut to a specific length, width, and depth, there is a difference between the nominal size (what the lumber is referred to) and its actual size.


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On June 19, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision clarifying the circumstances in which a lawsuit “arises out of” or “relates to” a corporation’s contacts with a particular jurisdiction, such that it can be sued there. In Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, writing for an 8-1 majority, Justice Alito held that California state courts do not have jurisdiction to hear the product liability claims of non-California residents against Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., a foreign corporation. The Court reasoned that the nonresident plaintiffs “do not claim to have suffered harm in that state” from their use of BMS’ drug Plavix, and “all the conduct giving rise to the nonresidents’ claims occurred elsewhere.” The Supreme Court found insufficient BMS’ substantial sales in California, including through its use of 250 sales representatives in that state.


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There’s a new tool for deceptive pricing class actions challenging “up to __%” savings promotional messaging:  A new lawsuit filed in New Jersey alleges that the clothing retailer’s “up to _% off” promotional messaging violates New Jersey’s consumer protection laws. The plaintiff sued Jos. A. Bank under the New Jersey Truth in Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (TCCWNA), N.J. Stat. § 56:12-15. This once-forgotten statute has recently been in the limelight, invoked in numerous class actions due to its generous civil penalties provision providing “not less than $100.00 or for actual damages, or both” at the choice of the consumer, plus attorney’s fees. See N.J. Stat § 56:12-17.


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Last month, our colleague Joshua Foust analyzed the then-newly introduced Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017.  The bill, sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), amends procedures used in federal court class action and mass tort litigation.  Last week, on March 9, just one month after Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced the bill, the full House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 220-201.  The legislation will now be considered by the Senate.   

Now that the bill has passed the House, we have drafted an alert providing additional analysis. Click here to read the alert on Crowell.com or read below.

The U.S. House Sets Out To Reform Class and Mass Actions


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