Commercial Litigation Alert Blog

Does “100% Natural” Mean “No GMOs”? First Circuit Holds That Deceptive Label Claim Not Barred Where FDA Leaves Question Unresolved

Does “100% Natural” Mean “No GMOs”? First Circuit Holds That Deceptive Label Claim Not Barred Where FDA Leaves Question Unresolved

On May 7, 2020, the First Circuit in Lee v. Conagra Brands, Inc., reversed the dismissal of a consumer fraud class action on the ground that the complaint plausibly stated that the product’s “100% Natural” statement may be deceptive to a consumer where the product contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In Lee, the plaintiff claimed that a “100% Natural” representation on the product label for Wesson Oil enticed her to buy the product because it indicated to her that the oil was GMO-free, when in fact it was not. She filed a class action alleging unfair or deceptive trade practices in violation of the Massachusetts consumer fraud law, Chapter 93A. The district court granted Conagra’s motion to dismiss, finding that the “100% Natural” language was “consistent with the FDA’s longstanding policy for the use of the term ‘natural’ on the labels of human food.” Additionally, the district court held that the FDA does not require a product to disclose on its label the use of GMOs. An act or practice violates Chapter 93A if it is “either unfair or deceptive.” The First Circuit’s decision addressed only the “deceptive” prong as plaintiff failed to raise, and thus waived, any argument that...

Third Circuit Reverses Class Certification in In re Lamictal Direct Purchaser & Antitrust Consumer Litig.; Next up, In re Suboxone

Third Circuit Reverses Class Certification in In re Lamictal Direct Purchaser & Antitrust Consumer Litig.; Next up, In re Suboxone

On April 22, 2020, the Third Circuit in In re Lamictal Direct Purchaser & Antitrust Consumer Litig., reversed class certification, concluding that the evidence did not establish that common proofs could be used to prove class-wide injury. The circuit court faulted the district court’s predominance analysis for failing to resolve factual disputes, weigh competing expert evidence, and make a prediction as to how these issues would play out at trial. Central to the ruling was the issue of antitrust impact. After brand and generic pharmaceutical manufacturers of the prescription drug Lamictal, or generic lamotrigine, settled a patent litigation, direct purchasers of these drugs sued claiming the settlement violated the antitrust laws as an impermissible “reverse payment agreement.” The brand manufacturer was alleged to have “paid” the generic to stay out of the market by promising not to launch an authorized generic (“AG”). The direct payor plaintiffs argued that they paid more for the drugs than they would have otherwise based on the theory that, on average, the price of a generic is lower when there are two generics rather than just one. The Third Circuit granted the manufacturer-defendants’ petition for leave to appeal under Rule 23(f). First, the Third Circuit...

Appellate Division Enforces Provision Prohibiting Class Arbitration

Appellate Division Enforces Provision Prohibiting Class Arbitration

In Curiale v. Hyundai Capital America Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed an order denying a motion to compel arbitration by Hyundai’s financing company (“HCA”), based on an arbitration clause in a motor vehicle retail order. The Appellate Division rejected the trial court’s finding that the arbitration clause was ambiguous because it stated that the parties must arbitrate any claims and then explicitly stated that the provision bars “class action arbitration.” The Arbitration clause provided: AGREEMENT TO ARBITRATE ANY CLAIMS. READ THE FOLLOWING ARBITRATION PROVISION CAREFULLY, IT LIMITS YOUR RIGHTS, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO MAINTAIN A COURT ACTION. The parties to this agreement agree to arbitrate any claim, dispute, or controversy, including all statutory claims and any state or federal claims, that may arise out of or relating to the sale or lease identified in this agreement. By agreeing to arbitration, the parties understand and agree that they are waiving their rights to maintain other available resolution processes, such as a court action or administrative proceeding, to settle their disputes. … The parties also agree to waive any right (i) to pursue any claims arising under this agreement including statutory, state or federal claims, as a class action arbitration,...

Is Everything Negotiable? Anticipating Legal Issues for the “Reopening”

Is Everything Negotiable? Anticipating Legal Issues for the “Reopening”

In the early 1980s, a book entitled You Can Negotiate Anything spent nine months on the New York Times bestseller list. The book may have a resurgence in the coming months, as one thing is for certain right now: After the state’s reopening, every contract, lease, and agreement is likely to be subject to negotiation. While much attention has been focused on force majeure provisions in contracts and potential bankruptcy filings, the practical effect of survival of the fittest will dictate necessary legal needs. Certainly there will be a time lag for the courts to be clogged with new cases. The retail, leisure travel, and entertainment sectors, while arguably most impacted by the recent closures and restrictions, will surely not be the only areas where businesses and individuals by necessity will renegotiate virtually every existing agreement. As New Jersey deals with the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic, legal issues are emerging that were previously never contemplated. In an instant, the world has changed, and all negotiated contracts are potentially at risk. The question becomes: How do businesses protect their futures? To start, anticipate legal issues. Documents and Agreements Likely to Be Subject to Renegotiation It is prudent to develop a...

Beyond Force Majeure: Government Quarantine Orders May Themselves Excuse Contract Non-Performance

Beyond Force Majeure: Government Quarantine Orders May Themselves Excuse Contract Non-Performance

The coronavirus pandemic is reverberating throughout commercial sectors, and countless contract obligations are going unperformed—shipments are not being made or accepted, payments are being missed, and contract milestone dates are lapsing every week that the pandemic and business shutdown continues. Those typically rare force majeure provisions are now being scrutinized. (For more on those topics, see previous entries in our COVID-19 “The Coronavirus Pandemic and Your Business: How We Can Help” client alert series, including “Litigation Issues That May Arise.”) And, in New Jersey, the precise language of such a clause is key, as courts in this state have held that they should be “narrowly interpreted as contemplating only events or things of the same general nature or class as those specifically enumerated.” Seitz v. Mark-O-Lite Sign Contractors, Inc., 210 N.J. Super. 646 (N.J. Sup. Ct. Law Div. 1986). With only some force majeure clauses including explicit references to pandemics, or broadly-worded “catch-alls,” the success of a force majeure defense is not necessarily certain. But before (or in addition to) attempting to invoke that force majeure provision, consider whether a court would ultimately determine that contractual non-performance is due to an “Act of God” or rather is being caused by...

Antitrust Law and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Antitrust Law and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is having repercussions in all sectors of the legal community, as illustrated in the prior entries in our “The Coronavirus Pandemic and Your Business: How We Can Help” client alert series. Antitrust law is no exception. The Bureau of Competition of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) have put out two joint statements in response to COVID-19, one on March 24 and another just last week. Both contain reminders and useful guidance concerning cooperation among market participants during these unprecedented times. Recognizing that meeting the challenges posed by the pandemic will require collaborative efforts to address pressing health and safety needs, FTC and DOJ highlighted in their March 24 statement certain types of coordinated activity that the antitrust laws generally permit – because they lead to outcomes that are efficiency-enhancing and pro-competitive. These include: Collaboration on research and development, as may be the case with R&D for developing a potential vaccine. Sharing of information regarding technical know-how as opposed to firm-specific data on prices and outputs. Standard setting designed to assist healthcare providers in clinical decision-making. Joint purchasing arrangements among medical providers that aid procurement, perhaps of PPE,...

Governor Murphy Signs Executive Order Number 122 to Cease All Non-Essential Construction Projects and Impose Additional Mitigation Requirements

Governor Murphy Signs Executive Order Number 122 to Cease All Non-Essential Construction Projects and Impose Additional Mitigation Requirements

On April 8, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order Number 122 (2020) (“EO 122”), which marks the twenty-first consecutive Order issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. EO 122 requires all non-essential construction projects to cease and imposes additional mitigation requirements on essential retail businesses, construction projects, and industries to reduce the rate of community spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey. EO 122 took effect beginning at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, April 10, 2020 (the “Effective Date”), and remains in effect until revoked or modified by the Governor. “Essential” vs. “Non-Essential” Construction Projects and Requirements for Manufacturing and Warehousing Businesses and Essential Construction EO 122 requires the physical operations of all “non-essential” construction projects to cease as of the Effective Date but, subject to certain requirements discussed below, allows “essential construction projects” to continue. “Essential construction projects” is defined broadly to include the following 14 categories of projects: Healthcare projects at hospitals, other healthcare facilities, and pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities Transportation projects involving roads, bridges, airports, seaports, and mass transit facilities or physical infrastructure Utility projects Residential affordable housing projects Schools projects from kindergarten through higher education Projects already started involving individual single-family homes or apartments already occupied,...

New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Temporarily Relaxes Construction Code Provisions Relating to Minor Work, Inspections, and Certificate Requirements

New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Temporarily Relaxes Construction Code Provisions Relating to Minor Work, Inspections, and Certificate Requirements

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Phil Murphy issued Executive Order No. 107 (“EO 107”) on March 21, 2020, mandating that all non-essential brick-and-mortar retail businesses close to the public as long as EO 107 remains in effect. EO 107 does not require closure of construction projects. Not only does EO 107 identify “construction workers” as an example of employees who need to be physically present at their work sites in order to perform their duties, but also, shortly after issuing EO 107, Governor Murphy sent a tweet confirming that work at construction sites may continue. On the same date that Governor Murphy issued EO 107, he issued Executive Order No. 108 (“EO 108”), which provides that local officials may not enact or enforce rules or regulations that conflict with EO 107. Although work at construction sites continues in New Jersey, there are myriad ways in which construction projects can be adversely impacted by the COVID-19 virus. One potential impact concerns ongoing inspections of construction work performed by local construction code officials pursuant to the Uniform Construction Code (UCC), N.J.A.C. 5:23. Construction code officials routinely inspect ongoing projects at various points during construction and issue Certificates of Occupancy for...

District of New Jersey Further Clarifies TCPA’s Reach For Text-Marketing Campaigns

District of New Jersey Further Clarifies TCPA’s Reach For Text-Marketing Campaigns

In a recent decision, Chief Judge Freda L. Wolfson of the District of New Jersey further clarified the reach of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) as it relates to certain text marketing campaigns by businesses. In Eisenband v. Pine Belt Automotive d/b/a Pine Belt Nissan, Eisenband filed a putative class action lawsuit against an automotive dealership, Pine Belt, claiming that Pine Belt had violated the TCPA by using an Automated Telephone Dialing System (ATDS), otherwise known as an autodialer, to send a text message to his cell phone. Eisenband had telephoned Pine Belt in 2017 requesting information about the cost of leasing a specific vehicle and instructed Pine Belt to call him back on his cell phone with the requested pricing information. Pine Belt’s sales representative obtained the cost estimate data and returned the call, as requested, but Eisenband decided not to enter into a lease for the vehicle. A few days later, Pine Belt sent Eisenband a promotional text message concerning lease options on other vehicles, which prompted him, about one week later, to file a class action lawsuit seeking statutory damages of up to $1,500 per text message, for himself and for every person in the putative...

ADA Website Liability and COVID-19

ADA Website Liability and COVID-19

Perhaps the last thing that many companies are focused on in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis is the extent to which their websites are compliant with accepted accessibility standards and the threat of ADA website accessibility class actions or individual claims. Unfortunately, however, it appears that ever-enterprising plaintiffs’ attorneys are taking advantage of this crisis to press these already ubiquitous claims even further. Over the past several years, thousands of federal lawsuits, styled as both class and individual actions, have been filed against companies in many industries seeking injunctive and compensatory relief for website-related violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA, has taken the position that the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” developed by the World Wide Web Consortium provide a minimum standard, and most courts have agreed. These cases seek injunctive and compensatory relief for violations of the ADA and analogous state and local anti-discrimination laws, specifically alleging that websites are not compliant with the ADA and accessibility guidelines particularly for vision-impaired users. These cases have developed into a lucrative cottage industry for certain plaintiffs’ attorneys, as they are easy to prosecute, difficult to defend, and often result in expedited...