Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
California v. Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson, Ethicon, Inc., and Ethicon US, LLC (collectively, Ethicon) appealed after a trial court levied nearly $344 million in civil penalties against Ethicon for willfully circulating misleading medical device instructions and marketing communications that misstated, minimized, and/or omitted the health risks of Ethicon’s surgically-implantable transvaginal pelvic mesh products. The court found Ethicon committed 153,351 violations of the Unfair Competition Law (UCL), and 121,844 violations of the False Advertising Law (FAL). The court imposed a $1,250 civil penalty for each violation. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in just one respect: in addition to penalizing Ethicon for its medical device instructions and printed marketing communications, the court penalized Ethicon for its oral marketing communications, specifically, for deceptive statements Ethicon purportedly made during one-on-one conversations with doctors, at Ethicon-sponsored lunch events, and at health fair events. However, there was no evidence of what Ethicon’s employees and agents actually said in any of these oral marketing communications. Therefore, the Court of Appeal concluded substantial evidence did not support the trial court’s factual finding that Ethicon’s oral marketing communications were likely to deceive doctors. Judgment was amended to strike the nearly $42 million in civil penalties that were imposed for these communications. View "California v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law
Leong v. Honolulu Ford, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the district court's order on motion for summary judgment and judgment, holding that the ICA erred when it affirmed the district court regarding Plaintiff-buyers' claims alleging unfair or deceptive acts or practices (UDAP) remaining after summary judgment.Following the execution of two purchase agreements, Buyers took possession of the vehicle in dispute in this case, which, unbeknownst to Buyers at the time, had a defective clutch assembly. Seller refused to repair the vehicle at no cost to Buyers or to return Buyers' deposit. Buyers brought this action alleging that Seller had engaged in UDAP. The district court granted summary judgment for Seller and then entered judgment against Buyers on all remaining claims. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the lower courts' judgments in part, holding that the district court erred in interpreting Haw. Rev. Stat. 481J-2 to conclude that the warranty for used motor vehicles does not cover a clutch assembly. View "Leong v. Honolulu Ford, Inc. " on Justia Law
Lee v. Luxottica Retail North America, Inc.
Lee, a San Francisco independent optometrist, sued corporate affiliates operating optical retail stores in California that offer competing eyeglass products and optometry services, on behalf of a putative class of independent optometrists. He alleged that the chain stores operated in a manner that violated state laws regulating the practice of optometry and the dispensing of optical products, constituting unfair and/or unlawful business practices in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL). He claimed that “adults are, on average, willing to drive more than 20 miles for routine medical care” and that “[i]f patients had not been able to visit illegal optometry locations, a statistically significant and statistically ascertainable percentage of such patients would have instead visited at least one member of the Class. The complaint sought a judgment “[o]rdering the restitution/disgorgement of all sums obtained by Defendants through improper taking of market share from Class Members through violations of the UCL.”The court of appeal affirmed the suit's dismissal. Compensation for lost market share is not a remedy authorized by the UCL, because it does not constitute restitution, the only form of nonpunitive monetary recovery authorized under the UCL. Compensation for expected but unearned future income to which the plaintiff has no legal entitlement is not recoverable as restitution under the UCL, regardless of how it is characterized. View "Lee v. Luxottica Retail North America, Inc." on Justia Law
Krol v. FCA US, LLC
The Supreme Court held that the Federal Trade Commission's "single document rule," promulgated under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. 2301-2312, does not require the disclosure of a binding arbitration agreement.Petitioner bought a truck from Respondent. The parties' retail purchase order included a binding arbitration agreement for any dispute related to the truck's purchase. Petitioner eventually filed suit under the Act, and Respondent successfully moved to compel arbitration. Petitioner appealed, arguing that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable because it was not disclosed in a single document with other warranty terms, in violation of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) single document rule. The Fifth District affirmed, holding that a binding arbitration agreement is not an item covered by the single document rule's disclosure requirements. The Supreme Court approved the Fifth District's decision, holding that the existence of a binding arbitration agreement is not among the disclosures required by the FTC's single document rule. View "Krol v. FCA US, LLC" on Justia Law
State ex rel. Morrisey v. Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston
The Supreme Court considered a question certified by the circuit court and answered that the deceptive trade practices provisions of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act (the Act), W. Va. Code 46A-6-101 to -106, do not apply to educational and recreational services offered by a religious institution.The Attorney General sued the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Michael Bransfield, in his capacity as former bishop of the Diocese, alleging (1) the Diocese knowingly employed persons who admitted to sexually abusing others or who were credibly accused of sexual abuse at its camps and schools, and (2) by misrepresenting or hiding that danger, the Diocese violated the deceptive practices provisions of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act. The circuit court dismissed the Attorney General's claims but stayed its order and certified a question of law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered the question in the negative, holding that the deceptive practices provisions of the Act do not apply to educational and recreational services offered by a religious institution. View "State ex rel. Morrisey v. Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston" on Justia Law
Lee v. Conagra Brands, Inc.
The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing, for failure to state a claim, Plaintiff's complaint alleging that, by labeling Wesson brand vegetable oil (Wesson Oil) "100% Natural," Conagra Brands, Inc. violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, holding that Plaintiff's complaint clearly alleged a Chapter 93A injury for pleading purposes.After learning that Wesson Oil contained genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Plaintiff sued Conagra, the manufacturer and distributor, alleging that, by labeling the oil "100% Natural," Conagra violated Massachusetts's prohibition against unfair or deceptive trade practices. The federal district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, concluding that Wesson Oil's label was neither unfair nor deceptive because it conformed to the Food and Drug Administration's labeling policy. The First Circuit reversed, holding that Plaintiff's claim may proceed because Plaintiff plausibly alleged that a reasonable consumer might think that the phrase "100% Natural" means that a product contains no GMOs, and then base her purchasing decision on that belief. View "Lee v. Conagra Brands, Inc." on Justia Law
Mississippi ex rel. Fitch v. Yazaki North America, Inc.
In 2012, the executives of several Japanese auto-parts manufacturers pled guilty to federal crimes based on an international scheme to fix the price of Automotive Wire Harness Systems (AWHS). Three years later, the State of Mississippi sued the American subsidiaries of these federally prosecuted companies, alleging violations of the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act (MCPA) and the Mississippi Antitrust Act (MAA), as well as a civil conspiracy to violate the MCPA and MAA. The trial court dismissed the State’s complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The State appealed. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed: the alleged unfair trade practices were too remote in time to support the State’s claim for injunctive relief under the MCPA; the complaint alleged no “wholly intrastate” transactions that would make the alleged illegal cartel punishable under the MAA; and because the State alleged no viable claim for a statutory violation, its civil-conspiracy claim, based solely on the alleged statutory violations, also failed. View "Mississippi ex rel. Fitch v. Yazaki North America, Inc." on Justia Law
Bratton v. Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, Inc. (SCL) on Cheryl Bratton's claims, holding that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment to SCL.This case stemmed from SCL's practice of issuing refunds to its patients, for such reasons as overpayment on an account, in the form of prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued through Bank of America. Plaintiff brought this suit alleging, among other claims, constructive trust based on unjust enrichment, unfair trade practices under the Montana Consumer Protection Act (MCPA), money had and received, and declaratory judgment. During discovery, SCL asked Bank of America to issue checks to Bratton for her refunds, which Bank of America did. The district court granted summary judgment for SCL. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment to SCL on Bratton's claims and by denying Bratton's cross motions for summary judgment. View "Bratton v. Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, Inc." on Justia Law
Uber Technologies Pricing Cases
Taxi companies and taxi medallion owners sued Uber, alleging violations of the Unfair Practices Act’s (UPA) prohibition against below-cost sales (Bus & Prof. Code, 17043) and of the Unfair Competition Law (section 17200). The UPA makes it unlawful “for any person engaged in business within this State to sell any article or product at less than the cost thereof to such vendor, or to give away any article or product, for the purpose of injuring competitors or destroying competition” but does not apply “[t]o any service, article or product for which rates are established under the jurisdiction of the [California] Public Utilities Commission [(CPUC)] . . . and sold or furnished by any public utility corporation.” Uber is a “public utility corporation” under section 17024 and is subject to CPUC’s jurisdiction. CPUC has conducted extensive regulatory proceedings in connection with Uber’s business but has not yet established the rates for any Uber service or product.The trial court ruled the exemption applies when the CPUC has jurisdiction to set rates, regardless of whether it has yet done so, and dismissed the case. The court of appeal affirmed, reaching “the same conclusion as to the applicability of section 17024(1) as have three California federal district courts, two within the last year, in cases alleging identical UPA claims against Uber.” View "Uber Technologies Pricing Cases" on Justia Law
Hinrichs v. DOW Chemical Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the circuit court's dismissal of Chris Hinrichs and Autovation Limited's (collectively, Hinrichs) common law misrepresentation claims against the DOW Chemical Company and reversing the circuit court's dismissal of Hinrichs' statutory claim under Wis. Stat. 100.18, holding that the court of appeals did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that, with regard to Hinrichs' common law claims, neither the "fraud in the inducement" exception nor the "other property exception" to the economic loss doctrine applied to allow Hinrichs' common law claims to go forward. With regard to Hinrichs' statutory claims the Court held (1) the economic loss doctrine does not serve as a bar to claims made under section 100.18; (2) because one person can be "the public" for purposes of section 100.18(1), the court of appeals did not err in determining that dismissal for failure to meet "the public" factor of the section 100.18 claim was in error; and (3) the heightened pleading standard for claims of fraud does not apply to claims made under section 100.18 and that Hinrichs' complaint stated a claim under the general pleading standard. View "Hinrichs v. DOW Chemical Co." on Justia Law