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Consumer Protection

Consumer Protection

We dedicate ourselves to serving the greater good by holding large corporations accountable for actions that can harm consumers. The driving force behind our consumer protection practice is providing clients with innovative and effective solutions to the legal problems they and many others like them face.

Victories

With Center for Science in the Public Interest

In November 2012, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against 7UP manufacturer Dr Pepper Snapple Group, over deceptive antioxidant claims for several regular and diet 7UP varieties. The labels of these products featured pictures of cherries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, and pomegranates. Despite the pictures of fruit on the labels, the drinks contained no fruit juice of any kind and were fortified with only a small amount of one antioxidant, vitamin E. One 12-ounce serving contained 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of sugars and 140 calories. The diet versions contained the artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame potassium. The suit alleged that the antioxidant claims were misleading because they gave the impression that beneficial antioxidants were provided by the addition of healthy fruit juices. Further, FDA discourages the fortification of nutritionally empty products like soda.

VICTORY: In July 2013, Dr Pepper Snapple Group agreed to drop its deceptive antioxidant campaign, stop fortifying certain 7UP soft drinks with vitamins, and no longer claim the products have antioxidants.

With Center for Science in the Public Interest

Plaintiffs brought suit against General Mills regarding false and deceptive packaging on its Strawberry Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups and other “fruit snacks.” The suit alleged that General Mills misled consumers about the nutritional and health qualities of its “fruit” snacks, and that Fruit Roll-Ups snacks lacked any strawberries or significant amount of real fruit but were instead made mostly of sugars, artificial additives, and artificial dyes.

VICTORY: In late 2012, General Mills agreed to improve its labeling for Strawberry Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups. So long as Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups contain no strawberries, the label will not carry any images of strawberries. General Mills also agreed to include the actual percentage of fruit in the product when making the claim, “Made with Real Fruit.”

With Center for Science in the Public Interest

Plaintiffs brought suit against General Mills in connection with “all natural” claims on the company’s Nature Valley granola bars. General Mills at the time marketed its granola bars as “100% natural” even though they contain artificial ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, dextrose monohydrate, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, or several other artificially produced ingredients.

VICTORY: In November 2014, a settlement agreement was announced which prevents General Mills from claiming that its Nature Valley granola bars and similar products are 100 percent Natural if those products contain high fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corny syrup, dextrose monohydrate, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, or any other artificially produced ingredients.

Following the lead of other companies catering to the demand for environmentally friendly and safe cleaning products, SC Johnson – one of the largest consumer products companies in the world – created its own “green” seal (Greenlist) and placed it on its existing Windex glass cleaner, implying an environmental benefit similar to green cleaners on the market. Despite the new label, SC Johnson did not make any meaningful changes to the Windex formulation or make the product green in any way. Plaintiffs brought this class action alleging that the Greenlist seal was completely fraudulent and misleading, and that Windex provided no environmental benefit whatsoever, and in fact was harmful to children and wildlife.

VICTORY: In July 2011, SC Johnson announced it had agreed to stop using the Greenlist logo on Windex® products.

Plaintiffs brought suit against Lowe’s Home Center for unlawfully requesting and recording private information from customers who used a credit card at the point of purchase. The suit alleged that zip code collection was not relevant to the purchase (other than for shipping or delivery purposes) and therefor was a direct violation of Massachusetts Unfair Trade Practices Act.

VICTORY: In April 2015, the Court preliminarily approved a proposed Class Action Settlement. The terms of the settlement agreement included the establishment of a gift card fund by Lowe’s Home Center for $300,000, from which consumers would receive a gift card of $25, with any excess amount allocated to the charity Habitat for Humanity.

Pending Cases

Consumer plaintiffs in New York and California brought suits against The Honest Company, Inc. alleging violation of consumer protection laws in the way that Honest markets some of its personal care, household care, and baby care products as “natural,” “all natural,” “naturally derived,” and/or “plant-based,” and as containing “no harsh chemicals (ever!).” The plaintiffs allege that these products, contrary to the way Honest markets them, actually contain dozens of unnatural, synthetic chemicals.

Some of the chemicals specified in the complaint are also dangerous. For example, one of the synthetic ingredients found in some of Honest’s products is methylisothiazolinone (MI), which is a contact allergen so potent that  as much as 10% of the population may have allergic reactions to is, with more people becoming sensitized every day. MI has been linked to what is called an epidemic of painful skin allergies, including rashes, blistering, swelling, redness, and hives. Reasonable consumers do not expect such chemicals to be in products labeled as having “no harsh chemicals (ever!).”

A consumer plaintiff brought suit against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Cos., Inc. for deceptively marketing Bedtime Bath and Bedtime Lotion products as “clinically proven” to help babies sleep better. The suit alleges that the J&J knew that the products themselves are not clinically proven but were subjected to clinical tests only as part of a three-step routine of bath, massage, and quiet time outlined on the products’ bottles. The plaintiff seeks damages on behalf of herself and fellow consumers for J&J’s alleged violations of New York consumer protection law. In October 2015, J&J filed a motion to dismiss the case and strike the plaintiff’s class allegations. On December 8, 2015, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin issued her decision, denying the bulk of J&J’s motion and allowing the plaintiff’s claim for damages on behalf of herself and fellow consumers to move forward.

STATUS: The court has denied defendant’s motion to dismiss and ordered the case to proceed.

Consumers of natural baby food brought suit against Hain Celestial Group, the parent company of Earth’s Best—a leading maker of “organic” and “natural” baby products. The case alleges numerous fraudulent claims on dozens of products, such as “organic” baby formula and “all natural” mineral sunscreen. Plaintiffs allege that Hain Celestial includes ingredients in these products that are not natural and/or are explicitly designated as nonorganic under federal law. For example, that Earth’s Best so-called organic baby formula contains 26 ingredients that are designated nonorganic under federal law and 38 ingredients that are synthetic compounds, including artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, artificial colors, toxic compounds, and hazardous substances. Plaintiffs are asking the court to require Hain Celestial to cease marketing the challenged products as all natural and/or organic as well as require the company to refund consumers deceived by Hain Celestial’s false representations.

STATUS: A federal court has allowed the case to proceed, ruling that consumer deception cases involving organic standards are not preempted by federal law.

Plaintiffs brought a multidistrict suit against ConAgra Foods for deceptively labeling and marketing its Wesson brand cooking oils, as “100% Natural.” The suit alleged that Wesson cooking oils were, in fact, produced from unnatural, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), resulting in false and misleading advertising, unfair competition, and/or unfair and deceptive practices. This resulted in the violation of numerous state consumer protection laws, as well as violation of several other statutory and common laws of multiple states such as unjust enrichment.

STATUS: Currently the case is stayed pending appeal in the Ninth Circuit. Prior to the case being stayed, plaintiffs’ case survived defendant’s attempts to dismiss the action, and the court ultimately allowed plaintiffs to proceed with their claims that ConAgra violated consumer protection laws and subsequently certified classes in numerous states.

Plaintiffs brought suit against Johnson & Johnson for making fraudulent “natural” claims on several of its Aveeno Active Naturals line of skin moisturizers. Plaintiffs allege that the Active Natural products contain dozens of harmful and synthetic chemicals, including glycerin, benzaldehyde, and phenoxyethanol, and that defendant fails to disclose the presence of these synthetic, unnatural ingredients. Plaintiffs further allege that the company fails to mention these synthetic ingredients at all on its website marketing the Active Natural products. Plaintiffs allege various violations of New York, California, and Florida consumer protection law relating to this deception.

STATUS: A federal court has allowed the case to go forward, ruling that actionable claims regarding the false and deceptive claim of Active Naturals may proceed.

Plaintiffs brought suit against Conopco (Unilever) for making fraudulent “natural” claims on its Suave Naturals line of shampoos and conditioners. Unilever positions Suave Naturals as a natural alternative to existing hair care products, and uses imagery of pristine environments and “natural ingredients” like bamboo to convey the supposed benefits of the products. Plaintiffs allege that the Suave Naturals products contain dozens of harmful and synthetic chemicals, including ammonium chloride, DMDM hydantoin, and methylisothiazolinone (a synthetic and a known skin allergen). Plaintiffs allege that Unilever fails to disclose the presence of these synthetic, unnatural ingredients. Plaintiffs further allege that while the company touts natural sounding “infusions” like aloe vera on the labels, these ingredients make up only a tiny fraction of the product. Plaintiffs allege various violations of New York and California consumer protection law relating to Unilever’s false and misleading representations.

Fiji’s business model consists of bottling water in plastic containers in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and then shipping these containers thousands of miles to be sold at an inflated price to consumers. In the past, Fiji has been criticized for running ads declaring that municipal tap water is unsafe and that Fiji is superior. In this class action, plaintiffs alleged that Fiji misleads consumers by making several false and misleading claims about the health and environmental benefits of its bottled water. For example, the Fiji label at the time featured a “green drop” meant to signify environmental benefit. Meanwhile, Fiji travels thousands of miles of ocean by ship, guzzling fuel in the process. Fiji’s health claim was equally fraudulent.

STATUS: The case is currently on appeal. Fiji, nonetheless, has removed the misleading “green drop” from its products.

Plaintiffs allege that retailer Williams-Sonoma gathers customer zip codes during credit card transactions for the purpose of building databases for direct mail campaigns and other advertising. Plaintiffs allege defendants violated the Massachusetts Unfair Trade Act in the process. Defendant leads consumers to believe they are required to provide their zip codes when paying by credit card when this is not true; in fact, it’s against the law in Massachusetts.

STATUS: The court has denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment and ordered the case to proceed.

Plaintiffs allege that a third-party content provider, i.e., an internet advertising company, illegally and purposefully subverted the privacy controls on their Safari browsers and mobile devices with the intent of implanting harmful cookies that capture sensitive information, including personal identifying details. Plaintiffs allege that not only does defendant steal this information, it sells it to the highest bidder. Plaintiffs allege that defendant uses tricks like “bug” links and transparent click-through boxes to steal information illegally from people online.

STATUS: The case is currently on appeal.

Job seekers who lost out on employment opportunities because of the unlawful release of their criminal conviction records to prospective employers brought suit against Reed Elsevier, parent company of LexisNexis. Plaintiffs allege violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and state law. LexisNexis is one of the largest purveyors of information in the world, including legal resources and background check information. LexisNexis gathers people’s information from public records and sells it to the highest bidder for use in employer background checks, among other things. Plaintiffs allege that LexisNexis and the other defendants maintain a flawed, inaccurate system and that as a result defendants wrongfully disclosed criminal convictions and that this directly cost them employment opportunities. Plaintiffs seek damages and are requesting that the court require defendants to cease their unlawful and reckless practices.

Complaints

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