Category: Class Action Defense

Guidance for Consumer Product Manufacturers, Distributors, and Sellers

Guidance for Consumer Product Manufacturers, Distributors, and Sellers

Wide-ranging issues are arising in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis and will continue to impact our clients in a growing number of ways. The Gibbons Consumer Class Action Defense Team is here to help and can work with you to address these critical concerns. Communication with consumers is critically important for consumer product manufacturers, distributors, and sellers, whether in the form of product labeling, advertising, or direct communications through telephone, text, and email. These communications are fraught with class action hazards that should be addressed in advance. Particularly in our present environment, product statements or advertising that, for example, promote the ability to stave off infection, increase the body’s immune system functions, or disinfect surfaces, may become subject to challenge in class action lawsuits by entrepreneurial class action attorneys. Sellers that contact their customers using text messaging platforms or dialing systems need to be particularly wary given the proliferation of TCPA class actions which cause great harm to small and large business alike. Also, companies seeking to recoup losses may over-aggressively promote their own products in a manner that is illegal and anti-competitive. Franchisors and franchisees may be faced with economic circumstances that make their current arrangements impractical. If...

27 Gibbons Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department Attorneys Selected to 2020 New Jersey Super Lawyers and Rising Stars

27 Gibbons Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department Attorneys Selected to 2020 New Jersey Super Lawyers and Rising Stars

Attorneys from the Gibbons Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department were featured in New Jersey Super Lawyers and New Jersey Super Lawyers Rising Stars, with 18 Department attorneys on the 2020 Super Lawyers list and nine on the 2020 Rising Stars list. These attorneys were listed in a wide range of categories, including Antitrust, Business Litigation, Class Action, Communications, Construction Litigation, Criminal Defense, Criminal Defense: White Collar, Insurance Coverage, and Media/Advertising. Highlights of this year’s New Jersey Super Lawyers list include the top-tier rankings earned by two Department attorneys: Top 10 Attorneys in New Jersey Lawrence S. Lustberg, Co-Chair, Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department Top 100 Attorneys in New Jersey Michael R. Griffinger, Director, Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department Lawrence S. Lustberg, Co-Chair, Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department The Gibbons attorneys listed in the 2020 issue of New Jersey Super Lawyers are: Frederick W. Alworth Guy V. Amoresano Robert C. Brady Thomas J. Cafferty Patrick C. Dunican Jr. Michael R. Griffinger Jennifer A. Hradil Bruce A. Levy Lawrence S. Lustberg Robert J. MacPherson Michael R. McDonald Brian J. McMahon Mary Frances Palisano Damian V. Santomauro Peter J. Torcicollo Thomas R. Valen Christopher Walsh John T. Wolak Those listed in the 2020...

Appellate Division Creates Split on Learned-Professionals Exception to New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act

Appellate Division Creates Split on Learned-Professionals Exception to New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act

In a recent opinion, Shaw v. Shand, the Appellate Division held that home inspectors are not “learned professionals” exempt from liability under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). Instead, the court held that only professionals who have historically been recognized as “learned” based on the requirement of extensive learning or erudition are exempt under the CFA. In Shaw, the plaintiffs hired the defendant, a licensed home inspector, to examine a home for defects. The defendant wrote a report concluding that the property was built with professional workmanship, was made of quality materials, and would only require typical maintenance and upgrades. The plaintiffs purchased the property in reliance on that report. Soon after the plaintiffs made the purchase, however, the property’s front porch collapsed. Plaintiffs then learned that the roof, windows, and sliding glass doors all leaked and required complete replacement and that the driveway would need to be replaced as well. They then discovered that the house had a significant mold problem. At the time the Appellate Division decided Shaw, the plaintiffs had spent tens of thousands of dollars repairing those conditions, and expected to spend tens of thousands more. Defendant’s inspection of plaintiffs’ home was his first as...

Third Circuit Establishes Framework for Determining Third-Party Based Liability under the TCPA

Third Circuit Establishes Framework for Determining Third-Party Based Liability under the TCPA

In a recent precedential decision, the Third Circuit held that an unsolicited fax seeking information does not constitute an unlawful advertisement under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Now, to “establish third-party based liability under the TCPA, a plaintiff must show that the fax: (1) sought to promote or enhance the quality or quantity of a product or services being sold commercially; (2) was reasonably calculated to increase the profits of the sender; and (3) directly or indirectly encouraged the recipient to influence the purchasing decisions of a third party.” In Robert W. Mauthe, M.D., P.C. v. Optum, Inc., the plaintiff claimed that it received unsolicited faxes from Defendants in violation of the TCPA. Defendants maintain a national database of healthcare providers, containing providers’ contact information, demographics, specialties, education, and related data. Defendants market, sell, and license the database typically to healthcare, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies, who use it to update their provider directories, identify potential providers to fill gaps in their network of providers, and validate information when processing insurance claims. To maintain the accuracy of the database, Defendants send unsolicited faxes to healthcare providers listed in the database, requesting them to respond and correct any outdated or inaccurate...

Supreme Court Further Restricts Class Arbitration Finding It Must be Unambiguously Authorized

Supreme Court Further Restricts Class Arbitration Finding It Must be Unambiguously Authorized

In a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court in Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varella held that courts may not infer from an ambiguous agreement that parties have consented to arbitrate on a classwide basis. Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varella involved an employee who had filed a class action against his employer. Lamps Plus responded by seeking to compel arbitration on an individual rather than a classwide basis. The district court dismissed the case and compelled arbitration, but on a class basis. Lamps Plus appealed, and the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s decision. The Ninth Circuit’s reasoning hinged on the fact that the arbitration agreement was ambiguous about the availability of class arbitration. The Ninth Circuit thus distinguished Stolt-Nielsen S. A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U. S. 662 (2010), arguing that in Stolt-Nielsen the parties had stipulated that the agreement was silent about class arbitration, whereas the parties had no such stipulation in Lamps Plus. Because the Ninth Circuit held that the agreement was ambiguous, the appellate court turned to California’s contra proferentem rule and held that this state law contract principle required the court to...

Supreme Court Holds That 14-Day Appeal Deadline Established by Rule 23(f) Cannot Be Tolled

Supreme Court Holds That 14-Day Appeal Deadline Established by Rule 23(f) Cannot Be Tolled

On February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court unanimously held in Nutraceutical Corporation v. Lambert, that the 14-day deadline imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f), seeking permission to appeal an order granting or denying class certification, cannot be tolled. After initially certifying a class, the District Court, on February 20, 2015, decertified the class after finding that common issues did not predominate among the class members. Pursuant to Rule 23(f)’s 14-day deadline, the plaintiff, Lambert, had until March 5, 2015 to seek permission to appeal. But, on March 2, 2015, Lambert orally informed the District Court that he would seek reconsideration and did not file his motion for reconsideration until March 12, 2015. Lambert’s motion for reconsideration was denied on June 24, 2015. Fourteen days after that, almost four months past his 14-day deadline, Lambert petitioned the Ninth Circuit seeking permission to appeal the District Court’s order decertifying the class. The Court of Appeals granted Lambert’s petition, finding that the 14-day deadline under Rule 23(f) should be tolled given the circumstances. Specifically, the Court of Appeals found that because Lambert had informed the court within 14 days that he would be seeking reconsideration, he acted diligently. The Supreme Court...

Third Circuit Clarifies Scope of Liability for Insurance Companies Under the Consumer Fraud Act

Third Circuit Clarifies Scope of Liability for Insurance Companies Under the Consumer Fraud Act

In a precedential decision interpreting the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), the Third Circuit determined that an automobile insurance carrier may be liable under the CFA for deceptively inducing one of its customers into releasing claims against another party represented by the carrier. In Alpizar-Fallas v. Favero, Defendant’s car struck Plaintiff’s vehicle, causing serious injury and damages. Both parties were insured by Defendant’s insurance company, Progressive. A Progressive claims adjuster arrived at Plaintiff’s home and presented her with a document that he claimed required her signature. The adjuster represented that by signing the document Plaintiff would expedite the claim process. Plaintiff signed the document relying on the adjuster’s statements. The document, however, was a “comprehensive general release of any and all claims” against defendant driver, also insured by Progressive. Plaintiff was not advised by the adjuster to seek counsel. Plaintiff subsequently brought a putative class action against Progressive for violation of the CFA. On Progressive’s motion, the district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims, reasoning that the CFA did not apply to “an insurance company’s refusal to pay benefits” but only to the “sale or marketing” of the policies. On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the district court mischaracterized...

Accepting the Risks of Arbitration Clauses: The Southern District of New York Upholds Arbitrator’s Decision Allowing Class-Wide Arbitration

Accepting the Risks of Arbitration Clauses: The Southern District of New York Upholds Arbitrator’s Decision Allowing Class-Wide Arbitration

On January 2, 2019, the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in Wells Fargo Advisors LLC v. Tucker, declined to vacate an arbitrator’s clause construction award, which construed the parties’ arbitration agreement as permitting class-wide arbitration. Importantly, prior decisions from the SDNY and Second Circuit concluded the parties’ arbitration agreement clearly and unmistakably expressed the parties’ intent that an arbitrator should decide the gateway issue of whether the agreement permitted class arbitration. Having delegated that authority to the arbitrator, the District Court found no basis in law to overturn that clause construction award. The two prior decisions in this matter, addressing the issue of who should decide whether an agreement permits class arbitration, align well with the United States Supreme Court’s January 9, 2019 holding in Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc. There—resolving a circuit split—the High Court held that when the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, a court may not override the contract, and possesses no power to decide the arbitrability issue, even if the court believes the argument that the arbitration agreement applies to a particular dispute is “wholly groundless.” The clause construction award in Wells Fargo Advisors LLC arose out...

Third Circuit Rejects Buyer’s Remorse as a Cognizable Injury Under Article III

Third Circuit Rejects Buyer’s Remorse as a Cognizable Injury Under Article III

In In Re: Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Products Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that buyer’s remorse, without more, does not constitute an economic injury sufficient to establish standing under Article III of the United States Constitution. Plaintiff brought a putative class action against defendant Johnson & Johnson, alleging that perineal use of defendant’s baby powder by women could lead to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Plaintiff did not allege that she had developed or was at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Nor did she allege that the product was defective in performing the functions for which it was advertised. Furthermore, Plaintiff had used all the product and, thus, was not seeking reimbursement for a product she cannot use. Rather, Plaintiff alleged that she would not have bought the baby powder had she known that it could lead to an increased risk of cancer. The District Court of New Jersey dismissed her complaint for lack of Article III standing. The Third Circuit affirmed. It relied on its analyses in Finkelman v. Nat’l Football League and Cottrell v. Alcon Laboratories to determine that Plaintiff’s allegations were too...

Eleventh and Seventh Circuits Hold Class and Collective Arbitration Are Questions of Arbitrability

Eleventh and Seventh Circuits Hold Class and Collective Arbitration Are Questions of Arbitrability

In two recent precedential decisions, JPay, Inc. v. Kobel and Herrington v. Waterstone Mortgage Corp., the Eleventh and Seventh Circuits, respectively, held that whether an arbitration may proceed on a class-wide basis (or as a collective action when a claimant is seeking relief under the Fair Labor Standard Act) is a “question of arbitrability” to be decided by the courts, unless the parties specifically delegate that responsibility to an arbitrator. The Supreme Court previously noted the lack of a majority decision on the subject in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds International Corp. and declined to address this question in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, leaving the decision to the circuits. In JPay, the dispute arose when two plaintiffs, users of JPay’s fee-for-service amenities to send money to inmates, filed suit alleging the service dissuaded users from sending funds through free paper money orders, and that the fees charged by JPay were “exorbitant” and used to “fund kickbacks to corrections departments.” JPay’s Terms of Service included a provision that the American Arbitration Association (AAA) would arbitrate and govern any disputes, claims, or controversies that arose between the parties and “[t]he ability to arbitrate the dispute, claim or controversy shall likewise be determined in...