Food-Court Follies: Judge Grates Parmesan-Cheese Multidistrict Litigation

parma cheeseThanks to America’s regrettably litigious nature, the “Reasonable Person” is always busy. This prototypically average, ordinary human being is routinely called upon in legal disputes governed by common-law tort principles and asked: What would you think or do in this situation? One strain of litigation—consumer-fraud class actions—has kept the Reasonable Person especially occupied in recent years.

A recent court case asked the Reasonable Person to put on her “reasonable consumer” hat and determine the meaning of the term “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” as it appears on containers of shelf-stable, processed shaky cheese.

In February 2016, inspired by overblown media stories, 15 lawsuits were filed in 6 different courts against 7 defendants (Kraft Heinz Co., Albertsons Cos., Target Corp., Wal-Mart Stores, ICCO-Cheese Co., and Publix Super Markets) alleging common-law and statutory violations for those companies’ false or misleading use of that statement. Continue reading

Ambiguity Eclipses Clarity in Two Post-“Spokeo” Standing-to-Sue Decisions

9thCirIn addition to an America-only total solar eclipse, August has brought us a remarkable flurry of significant federal appeals court decisions. Among those decisions were two that addressed a hotly contested procedural issue: plaintiff’s standing to sue for violation of a federal statute.

The rulings, both of which interpreted and applied the 2016 US Supreme Court Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins decision, further clarified that decision’s main holding while also exacerbating the confusion over what constitutes a “concrete and particularized” injury.

We’ve written quite a bit about Spokeo and its progeny here. There, the Court held that plaintiffs alleging a “bare procedural violation” of a federal statute do not meet the “case or controversy” standing requirement of Article III of the US Constitution. Such litigants must also claim an injury-in-fact, i.e. a harm that is concrete and particularized to them. Justice Alito’s opinion offered very little guidance on how courts should make that determination. Continue reading

Food-Court Follies: Fraud Suits Fall Apart after Plaintiffs’ Candid Admissions During Discovery

ocean sprayAs many people learned from watching legendary radio and TV show host Art Linkletter (or from simply being parents), kids say the darnedest things. Similarly, those of us who follow class actions alleging misleading labeling of consumer goods have discovered that adult plaintiffs can say the darnedest things, too.

Three plaintiffs’ candid admissions during their depositions in two product-labeling suits recently revealed their claims to be entirely baseless. Regrettably, neither the plaintiffs nor their lawyers have been held accountable for the costs these frivolous lawsuits imposed on the federal courts, the defendants, and consumers. Continue reading

Pokèmon, Go Get a Permit: Free-Speech Suit Ropes in Reactionary County Ordinance

pokemongo2It’s October 2016, and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin residents are massing on sidewalks, around town landmarks, and in public parks, eyes glued to their smartphones as they chase virtual Pokèmon Go characters.

Meanwhile, in the halls of county government, elected officials mull over the implications of this craze.

Some delight at the game’s ability to bring people together and inspire normally sedentary younger residents to get outside. Others, however, wring their hands over complaints of traffic disruptions and unruly teenagers and scheme over how to quell game-creature hunting, or at least how to make money off of it for the county.

One supervisor, deciding that something needs to be done, devises an ordinance. Rather than target the bad behavior of individuals playing the games, the measure imposes a permitting process and fees on augmented-reality-app developers. After several months of debate, the Board of Supervisors passes Resolution 16-637 by a 13-4 vote on February 2, 2017. Continue reading

Another Economic Reality: Single, Rational Test Needed for Who Is an “Employer”

DOLNLRBEarlier this month, in An Economic Reality: Uniform Regulatory Definition Needed for Who Is an “Employee”, we argued that a standardized, control-based test for legally categorizing workers would benefit both employers and employees. In this commentary, we explain why similar uniformity is urgently needed in how regulatory agencies and courts define “employer.”

The legal definition of “employer” is critical because employers are responsible for compliance with federal and state labor laws and can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. It is most relevant, and controversial, in situations where businesses outsource or subcontract certain work responsibilities, and in franchise arrangements. Too broad a definition of employer could force businesses that outsource, subcontract, or franchise to act as “joint employers” for employees of entirely separate businesses. Continue reading

An Economic Reality: Uniform Regulatory Definition Needed for Who Is an “Employee”

DOLLast month, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that its was withdrawing controversial policies that reflected how its Wage and Hour Division defined the terms “employer” and “employee” when enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). DOL merited the applause its action received from regulated entities, but it is merely one small step in the direction of what franchisors, franchisees, “gig” economy participants, independent contractors, and other businesses desperately need: clear, uniform, and reliable standards that put an end to the “gotcha” game regulators and lawyers have been playing in recent years.

This part will focus here on standards for the term “employee”; a future post will address the need for uniformity in what constitutes an “employer.” Continue reading

Supreme Court’s Presumption-of-Innocence Decision Should Inspire Asset-Forfeiture Reformers

supreme courtIn a US Supreme Court term filled with cases that “only a lawyer could love,” the justices did issue at least one decision in October Term 2016—Nelson v. Colorado—that any TV crime-drama viewer can understand. The decision turned on the bedrock principle that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. While Justice Ginsburg’s opinion applies directly to a Colorado law, it could prove highly influential in the ongoing debate over civil-asset forfeiture, a controversial law-enforcement practice. Continue reading