This blog recently covered a decision from the Northern District of California denying a defendant’s motion for summary judgment on a plaintiff’s “greenwashing” claims, which asserted that defendant’s “non-toxic” and “Earth-friendly” labels were false and misleading. See Bush v. Rust-Oleum Corp., 2024 WL 308263 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 26, 2024). Now, the same court has granted class certification on those claims, demonstrating that not only can these claims be difficult to defeat before trial, but it can also be difficult to prevent certification on those claims as well.Continue Reading “Greenwashing” Claims Certified For Class Treatment
As companies have increased efforts to represent their products as environmentally friendly, “greenwashing” lawsuits—which target companies (often under consumer protection statutes) based on allegations of false or misleading statements regarding the environmental impact of their products or practices—have also increased. A recent order from the district court in the Northern District of California illustrates the difficulty in attempting to defeat these claims before trial if a strong evidentiary record has not been developed.Continue Reading N.D. Cal. Judge Allows “Greenwashing” Claims to Proceed to Trial
A California district court recently dismissed two lawsuits that asserted that the marketing of certain tampons was misleading due to the alleged presence of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”), holding that plaintiffs could not rely on conclusory assertions regarding testing that allegedly detected PFAS in the products.Continue Reading Court Dismisses Lawsuits Alleging Presence of PFAS in Tampon Products
We are seeing a growing number of class actions alleging consumer harms from corporate carbon offset policies. On October 13, a California federal court threw out such a case (albeit with leave to amend) against e-commerce site Etsy.
The lawsuit, Blackburn v. Etsy, Inc., No. 2:23-cv-05711 (C.D. Cal. 2023), stemmed from a number of carbon offset promises Etsy has made since 2019—that the company engages in “100% offsetting [of] all carbon emissions from shipping[,]” that it was “the first major online shopping destination to offset 100% of carbon emissions generated by shipping[,]” and that its “goal [is] to run a carbon neutral business[.]” Dkt. No. 20 at 1. Plaintiffs alleged that the carbon offset promises were false “due to endemic methodological errors and fraudulent accounting on behalf of offset vendors.” Id. Plaintiffs claimed that Etsy’s false promises caused them harm because they paid more for products on the site than they otherwise would have under the mistaken belief that Etsy’s shipments were carbon neutral. Continue Reading California Federal Court Throws Out Carbon Offset Class Action Against Etsy
The Ninth Circuit recently issued an important decision for consumer companies that routinely face false advertising litigation. Resolving an issue that had split district courts in the circuit, the panel held that when “a front label is ambiguous, the ambiguity can be resolved by reference to the back label.” McGinity v. Procter & Gamble Co.,– F.4d –, 2023 WL 3911531, at *4 (9th Cir. June 9, 2023). The court also issued a memorandum affirming the dismissal of a complaint against Icelandic Provisions on the same grounds; Covington represented the company in that matter. See Steinberg v. Icelandic Provisions, Inc., 2023 WL 3918257, at *1 (9th Cir. June 9, 2023). With these decisions, the Ninth Circuit joins the growing consensus that back labels must be considered when a challenged front label claim is ambiguous. See, e.g., Foster v. Whole Foods Mkt. Grp., Inc., 2023 WL 1766167, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 3, 2023).Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Confirms Courts Should Consider Whether Back Panel Disclosures Help Clarify Ambiguous Front-of-Pack Claims
As plaintiffs continue to rely on the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (“CPPA”) to bring greenwashing suits, a recent D.C. Superior Court decision imposes limits on their ability to allege that a company’s general commitments to “sustainability” can constitute actionable misrepresentations.Continue Reading Aspirational Statements of “Sustainability” Not Actionable Under D.C. Consumer Protection Statute
The Southern District of California recently declined to certify a class based on plaintiffs’ failure to offer class wide proof of deception and materiality. In Gross et al. v. Vilore Foods Company, Inc., plaintiffs alleged that Kern fruit juice products were deceptively labeled as “100% Natural” or made with whole fruit when the drinks in fact contained artificial ingredients. Plaintiffs brought claims under various California laws, including the UCL, CLRA, and FAL. To certify a class, plaintiffs were required to offer common proof both that the challenged representations were deceptive or misleading to a reasonable consumer; and that the challenged representations were material, meaning a reasonable person would attach importance to the representations that Kern’s fruit juice is “100% natural” or made with whole fruit. The court held that plaintiffs satisfied neither burden.
First, as to deception, the only evidence Plaintiffs cited was their expert’s report. Plaintiffs’ expert purported to assess the importance consumers placed on certain product attributes, and how claims such as “artificially flavored” affected their willingness to pay for a product. Plaintiffs’ expert concluded that consumers were willing to pay approximately 29% more for a Kern product that did not disclose its use of artificial flavors, and approximately 30% less for a product disclosing that it contained artificial flavors. The court found this evidence insufficient because consumers’ willingness to pay more or less for a product said nothing about whether the labels at issue would lead consumers to believe that the products did not contain artificial flavors, or contained only natural flavors. As a result, the court held that Plaintiffs’ expert’s opinion could not constitute common proof of deception.Continue Reading Consumer Survey Did Not Constitute Common Proof of Deception or Materiality
We previously reported on a surge of mislabeling suits filed in District of Columbia Superior Court, following lower court decisions that purported to grant “tester” plaintiffs—individuals and organizations that purchase products simply to test whether the representations about a product are true—a right to sue on behalf of the general public under the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (“CPPA”). A year later, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has endorsed an even more expansive interpretation of the CPPA, permitting a public interest organization to bring such actions even if the organization fails to satisfy Article III’s standing requirements. We expect even more lawsuits to be filed in the wake of this decision.Continue Reading A Closer Look: D.C. Court of Appeals Endorses Broad Organizational Standing to Bring Consumer Protection Lawsuits
Keurig has agreed to settle on a nationwide class basis a lawsuit alleging that the labeling of its K-Cup pods misleads consumers into believing that K-Cups are more widely recyclable than the coffee pods actually are.
The complaint, filed in 2018, alleged that Keurig marketed its products as recyclable, despite knowing that they “typically end[ed] up in landfills.” The plaintiff claimed that the packaging conveyed that consumers can “[h]ave [their] cup and recycle it, too,” by following the illustrated instructions to “PEEL,” “EMPTY,” and “RECYCLE” next to the chasing arrow recycling symbol. However, the plaintiff claimed, these labels were deceptive because K-Cups cannot be recycled due to their size, making them per se deceptive under the Green Guides, which state that “if any component [of a recyclable product] limits the ability to recycle the item, any recyclable claim would be deceptive. . . . [If] its shape, size or some other attribute is not accepted in recycling programs, [it] should not be marketed as recyclable.” The plaintiff additionally alleged that even if any pods were incidentally recycled, they would still end up in landfills because there was no downstream market for the recycled pods.Continue Reading Keurig Settles K-Cup Recycling Claims