Week Adjourned: 9.26.14 – E-Cigarettes, GNC, BofA

The week’s top class action lawsuits and settlements. Top stories include e-cigarettes, GNC and Bank of America.

Fumizer E-cigaretteTop Class Action Lawsuits

Hmm, has Fumizer been Smokin’ Something? Consumers are fuming over false advertising claims made by a manufacturer of e-cigarettes—so much so they’ve filed a consumer fraud class action lawsuit. Filed by a smoker, not surprising there, the lawsuit accused Fumizer of falsely claiming its vaporizers could help users quit smoking or lead to “healthy smoking” (healthy smoking?—that is an oxymoron—not to mention the visual is totally counter-intuitive).

The e-cigarette lawsuit alleges the company made these claims despite the existence of adverse medical studies. Ya think?

The lawsuit, filed by plaintiff Joseph Sheppard, alleges that the manual for the Fumizer e-cigarette claims it can “help you quit smoking,” which contradicts other marketing materials that disclaim that any use of the e-cigarette is an aid to quit smoking. According to the lawsuit, the disclaimers are made to avoid U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation.

“These representations are contradictory and hypocritical because [the packaging] asserts Fumizer e-cigarettes are ‘neither intended nor marked as a quit smoking aid,’” the complaint states.

Further, the complaint contends that Fumizer misled consumers by referring to healthy smoking, and ignoring studies which show e-cigarettes still contain some of the carcinogens and toxins in tobacco cigarettes, along with additional potentially harmful chemicals.

Sheppard also states in the complaint that vaporizers require users to inhale more deeply compared with traditional cigarettes, which could be harmful. Claims about healthy smoking make consumers feel there are no risks to using the devices, the suit claims.

“There is widespread agreement in the scientific community that further research is necessary before the full negative effects of electronic cigarette use on users’ health can be known and that until then, manufacturers, sellers and distributors of electronic cigarettes should not make any representations relating to the safety, health or benefits, if any, of electronic cigarettes,” the complaint states.

Additionally, the lawsuit notes that Fumizer fails to list the ingredients for its products, thereby preventing consumers from being able to make an informed decision regarding whether or not they want to risk inhaling specific chemicals.

“By omitting the ingredients, defendant hides the fact that Fumizer e-cigarettes contain propylene glycol, a product found to cause throat irritation and induce coughing, and thus no longer used by certain of Fumizer’s competitors,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also states that Fumizer’s claims its devices could be used anywhere, citing cities and counties in California that have banned e-cigarettes and public, along with statements that its vaporizers were top quality. However, the plaintiff’s Fumigo 650 Personal Vaporizer allegedly short-circuited, exploded and caused a fire in his home in March, according to the suit.

E-cigarettes that are good for you? Sounds like a Scamorama ding-dong to me.

Top Settlements 

OxyElite been Beat? And while we’re on the subject of too good to be true—GNC Holdings Inc, the maker of USPLabs OxyELITE Pro just agreed to settle a class action that alleged the diet supplement does everything but take the garbage out. Unfortunately, it seems that included associated liver damage, which got the diet supplement pulled from the market by the FDA last November.

The ensuing lawsuit alleged GNC sold the supplements, which contain dimethylamylamine, better known as DMAA, and aegeline, despite widespread reports that the products cause severe liver damage.

This week, GNC agreed to pony up $2 million to shut the suit down. The GNC settlement motion, filed in the Northern District of Florida, asked the court to sign off on the deal, which will provide reimbursements for consumers who bought USPlabs’ OxyElite Pro and Jack3d lines of products.

Heads up—the settlement class includes anyone who bought the USPlabs products between Aug. 17, 2012, and the date of final approval, according to the motion. Eligible class members will receive $35 per container of OxyELITE Pro purchased, $20 per container of Jack3d and $20 per container of VERSA-1.

The case is Velasquez et al. v. USPLabs LLC et al., case number 4:13-cv-00627, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Force-placed Insurance Scams made the news this week, with final approval granted for a $31 million settlement of seven proposed force-placed insurance class actions, all alleging Bank of America NA (BofA) illegally forced homeowners to buy excessive amounts of flood insurance. It’s a lottery where the bank always wins, it seems. But not in these cases.

Approved by a federal judge in Oregon, the settlement will see BofA pay $31 million into a settlement fund, with plaintiffs receiving $2,500 each as an incentive award. The approval order also calls for certification of a class for settlement purposes only.

The lawsuits were filed in 2011 alleging BofA sent letters to homeowners and other borrowers informing them that they carried insufficient flood insurance because they lived in special flood zones, where there was a high risk of flooding and associated hazards. However, there is no federal requirement for homeowners living in those areas to carry additional insurance, the lawsuits claimed. BofA allegedly ignored proof sent by the plaintiffs demonstrating that they med the allegedly unnecessary requirement.

Under the terms of the settlement, BofA will make a series of changes to its insurance practices, including not taking any commission from force-placed flood insurance for three years. The bank also agreed to cease giving out opt-out letters from the forced policies in some of its future mailings and to refund co-op borrowers for any force-placed insurance that was not required by their loans.

The case is Larry Arnett et al. v. Bank of America NA. et al., case number 3:11-cv-01372, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.



Ok – Folks –time to adjourn for the week.  Have a fab weekend –see you at the bar!

Week Adjourned: 9.19.14 – GNC, La-Z-Boy, Meriter Health

The week’s top class action lawsuits and settlements. Top stories include GNC, La-Z-Boy and Meriter Health

GNC Magna RxTop Class Action Lawsuits

Supersize me—or not—as the case may be. After all, if it sounds too good to be true… then maybe Magna-Rx Inc, is promising just a tad more than it can deliver. The supplement maker GNC got hit with a proposed consumer fraud class action lawsuit this week alleging the labeling on its male strength and performance enhancement supplement misleads consumers by implying it is an effective aphrodisiac. According to the Magna-Rx lawsuit, the company falsely markets “Magna-Rx+” as a medically endorsed aphrodisiac, although the supplement, a blend of herbal and root extracts, has never been scientifically studied, and there is no proof that its ingredients have an effect on male strength and performance. In plain English—snake oil.

In the complaint, Trevor Dixon, the plaintiff, states that he purchased Magna-Rx+ for $50 in March 2013, from a GNC store. In January 2014 Dixon discovered the company had violated California’s unfair competition and false advertising laws and Consumer Legal Remedies Act, as well as the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, by marketing the supplement as an aphrodisiac. Further, as an over-the-counter drug sold as an aphrodisiac, Magna-Rx+’s label should have been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the complaint states.

Magna-Rx+ includes the ingredients: horney goat weed (WTF?), muira puma, Asian ginseng, oat straw and catuaba. However, none of these are safe and effective for OTC use as an aphrodisiac,” the lawsuit states. “The FDA bars these false, misleading and unsupported by scientific data label claims.” Is there even such a thing as horney goat weed?
Wait—there’s more—“Further, consuming such random herbs and herbal extracts presents a risk of an allergic or other adverse reaction without any offsetting benefit,” the complaint states.

The complaint also notes that the president of Magna-Rx testified in a deposition that the company never scientifically tested Magna-Rx+’s efficacy. Only a few ingredients may be effective at treating certain conditions, none of which includes male virility, according to the suit.

According to the lawsuit, the Magna-Rx+ label contains the phrase “Dr. Aguilar’s Original,” suggesting that Magna-Rx was developed by medical professionals. However, Dr. Aguilar is not a licenced medical practitioner in the US, but has a small storefront ‘alternative medicine’ clinic in Mexico. And, no one from Magna-Rx has ever interacted with Aguilar. That’s encouraging.

Additionally, the complaint cites the phrase “Real Doctors, Real Results,” which appears on the product labeling and suggests Magna-Rx+ is medically endorsed. According to the suit, the “Rx” in the product’s name further implies that it is prescription-strength, and “Magna” indicates that it is effective in increasing male strength and performance.

Boy—this stuff makes the Tooth Fairy sound plausible. Wonder what it does do… 

La-Z-Boy living up to its name…. in that it’s been a bit lazy about accommodating people with disabilities who need wheelchair access to their stores. So, the company now finds itself on the end of a discrimination class action lawsuit alleging its stores are not fully accessible to the disabled because they lack handicapped parking and wheelchair-accessible restrooms, in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and Disabled Persons Act.

Filed in Los Angeles, by lead plaintiff George Zepeda, the complaint alleges La-Z-Boy discriminates against disabled California residents by not requiring its facilities be accessible for handicapped individuals. Zepeda claims that there are several La-Z-Boy stores that do not have accessible restrooms, handicapped parking spaces and appropriate accessibility signage. The lawsuit also states that the furniture manufacturer has so far refused to remedy the situation.

“As a result of that failure to remedy existing barriers to accessibility, plaintiff and others similarly situated have been denied access to the benefits of the goods, services, programs, facilities and activities of defendant’s stores, and have otherwise been discriminated against and have suffered damages caused by defendant’s accessibility violations,” the complaint states.

In the complaint, Zepeda states that in June he purchased end tables and a stationary chair at a La-Z-Boy’s in California. He alleges that as a result of being denied full and equal access, he was discriminated against. Zepeda is restricted to a wheelchair and therefore, because the store did not have fully accessible restrooms, he says he was discriminated against.

Specifically, Zepeda claims that opening the restroom door required excessive force to open and keep open while he entered and exited the restroom because the door closer was not adjusted to allow the door to remain open long enough for him to wheel himself inside without assistance.

Further, once he was inside the washroom, he was unable to use the facilities because the toilet seat was “excessively high” from the floor, making it hard for him to maneuver from his wheelchair to the toilet seat, and also because the toilet paper dispenser, toilet seat cover dispenser and soap dispenser were mounted too high for him to reach. He says he also couldn’t wash his hands because the pipes under the lavatory were not covered and he was worried about burning his legs on them.

Zepeda also states that he wrote La-Z-Boy management about the issues but he never received a response. According to the lawsuit La-Z-Boy has a number of locations in Southern California with similar accessibility issues, including numerous restroom violations and a lack of disabled and van parking spots, and that the company has not acknowledged any of his complaints.

“The … violations are ongoing and continue to result in the plaintiff and unnamed mobility impaired class members suffering discrimination as a result of being denied full and equal access to these stores,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit is seeking certification of a class of all mobility-impaired or wheelchair-bound people in California who have patronized La-Z-Boy stores. The complaint states the class will consist of thousands of members, since census statistics show that more than 150,000 non-institutionalized people over age 16 in California use wheelchairs.

Top Settlements 

About those pension checks….employees at Meriter Health noticed they weren’t on the money. But this week they announced an $82 million settlement of an an employment lawsuit filed in 2010 alleging Meriter Health Services improperly calculated employee pensions. The settlement will see some 4,000 Meriter Health Services employees receive an average of $14,000 each in damages. A dozen people named as plaintiffs will each get an additional $5,000, and another 2,000 people will each receive about $250. Overall, more than $56 million will be allocated to about 6,000 people in 11 classes in the suit. Nice going!

The lawsuit alleged Meriter’s pension plan miscalculated benefits from 1987 to 2014. Both parties have agreed to the $82 million settlement, but a final settlement hearing is scheduled for some time in January.

Meriter Health Services became part of Iowa-based UnityPoint Health this year. 

Ok—Folks—time to adjourn for the week.  Have a fab weekend—see you at the bar!

Week Adjourned: 9.12.14 – SkinMedica, Intermountain Hotels, NFL Cheerleaders

The week’s top class action lawsuits and settlements. Top stories include SkinMedica skin care, Intermountain Hotels including Hilton and Marriott, and the Oakland Raiders.

SkinmedicaTop Class Action Lawsuits

Is the fountain of youth cancer-inducing? Possibly…at least according to a dangerous drugs class action lawsuit filed this week against Allergan Inc’s subsidiary SkinMedica Inc. The lawsuit claims that the cosmeceutical company withheld information from consumers regarding its anti-aging creams specifically, that they contain human foreskin cells, and that these creams pose a risk for cancer.

Filed by plaintiff Josette Ruhnke, the complaint alleges that the sale of SkinMedica Inc.’s line of “Tissue Nutrient Solution” (TNS) products containing the compound “NouriCel” is illegal, because the products haven’t received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ruled the case can go forward.

According to the complaint, TNS products are marketed for “skin rejuvenation” purposes. However, they contain a proprietary mix of human growth factors that originate from human foreskin tissue. The products are trademarked as NouriCel. The TNS creams have the ability to initiate cell division, which, according to Ruhnke’s complaint, are thought to contribute to the growth of tumor cells or other abnormalities.

The complaint, filed in 2013, also claims that, in addition to lacking FDA approval, SkinMedica had not performed required controlled safety studies before marketing TNS products. Judge Carter rejected arguments from SkinMedica that TNS products aren’t drugs under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act because the growth factors they contain are “naturally occurring.”

“SkinMedica promotes TNS Products as ‘cosmeceuticals’ containing a mix of endogenous ‘growth factors’ for skin rejuvenation. The term ‘cosmeceutical’ conveys that a product is both a cosmetic and pharmaceutical,” Judge Carter wrote. “A product which occurs naturally or is derived from natural ingredients is capable of regulation as a drug.”

Additionally, Judge Carter noted that the creator of NouriCel has stated that more double-blind and controlled studies are needed to confirm the preliminary clinical effects of growth factor products. Judge Carter also cited the fact that the complaint stated that the two FDA-approved products on the market containing human growth factors provide prominent safety warnings the TNS products lack.

“The thrust of defendants’ argument is essentially that the evidence does not support plaintiff’s claim,” Judge Carter wrote. “Plaintiff’s allegations, taken as true, suggest that there are serious safety concerns associated with TNS Products.”

The case is Josette Ruhnke v. SkinMedica Inc., et al, case number 8:2014-cv-00420, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

It seems that growing old gracefully may be vastly underrated.

Hotels less than Hospitable? What would TWA be without our weekly update on unpaid wages and overtime class action lawsuits. This week, workers at the Hilton and Marriott properties filed against Intermountain Management LLC alleging the company failed to pay overtime and other wages due to employees. The lawsuit contends that Intermountain Management misclassified its current and former workers so as to make them exempt from payment for overtime and wages and missed rest and meal breaks.

Further, former Intermountain manufacturing engineer Indica Heredia, who filed the lawsuit, alleges the company failed to pay all wages due to employees when they were terminated.

“Intermountain routinely understaffs knowing that scheduled shifts will not permit employees to take their legal meal and rest periods and will require them to work through meal and rest periods as well as off the clock,” the complaint states. Heredia alleges the Louisiana-based hospitality management company had a policy of making its employees work five-hour shifts or longer without a 30-minute meal break within the first five hours or compensation for the missed break and didn’t pay all wages due to ex-employees when they were terminated.

Heredia performed routine system testing on Intermountain products, among other duties, and claims he was misclassified as exempt from overtime compensation in violation of California labor lawthe complaint states. The lawsuit proposes the class would include current and former hourly, nonexempt employees who worked in the four years preceding the filing of the complaint at hotels owned, managed or operated by Intermountain in California, including Residence Inn, Courtyard Inn, TownePlace Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Hampton Inn & Suites, Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites hotels.

The lawsuit alleges Intermountain Management violated California labor law, specifically that the class, consisting of at least several-hundred employees, was not paid all regular and overtime wages, given meal and rest periods, or provided wage statements and personnel records.

Heredia seeks unpaid wages at time-and-a-half or double-time rates for all overtime work, as well as damages and penalties and a declaratory judgment against the company.

The case is Indica Heredia v. Intermountain Management LLC et al., case number 5:14-cv-04006, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

They owe, they owe—so off to court they go…

Top Settlements

And while we’re on the subject of unpaid wages …

Hip-Hip-Hooray! A $1.25 million settlement has been reached in the landmark unpaid wages class action pending against the Oakland Raiders football team. The employment lawsuit was filed by the Oakland Raiders’ Cheerleaders alleging wage theft and other unfair employment practices.

If approved, the NFL cheerleader settlement would cover 90 cheerleaders who worked for the Raiders between 2010 and 2013 seasons. The Raiderettes would receive an average of $2,500 to $6,000 per season, depending on which seasons they worked, according to a joint statement by the parties.

Under the deal, Lisa T. and Sarah G., a second named plaintiff, would each receive a class representative payment of $10,000. The settlement is subject to court approval. A hearing on the motion has been scheduled for September 26.

Filed by lead plaintiff and Raiderette “Lacy T., the lawsuit alleged ” in January, alleged that the Raiders withheld all pay from the Raiderettes until after the end of the season, didn’t pay for all hours worked, and forced the cheerleaders to pay many of their own business expenses.

According to the class action, pursuant to their contract, the Raiderettes were each paid $1,250 for working a full season, amounting to less than $5 per hour for the time they spent rehearsing, performing and appearing at events. Further, the lawsuit claimed wages were also withheld until after the end of the season.

The case is Lacy T. et al. v. The Oakland Raiders et al., case number RG14710815, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Alameda. 

Ok – Folks –time to adjourn for the week.  Have a fab weekend –see you at the bar!

Week Adjourned: 9.5.14 – Allstate, Radiology Bills, BofA Phone Calls

The week’s top class action lawsuits and settlements. Top stories include Allstate Insurance, Radiology Bills and BofA Phone Calls.

AllstateTop Class Action Lawsuits

You’re in good hands with Allstate? Maybe not so much if you’re a claims adjuster. This week the Insurance giant got a surprise. It’s green lights a go-go for a long-standing unpaid overtime class action against, involving 800 Allstate employees in California who allege Allstate had a practice or unofficial policy of requiring its claim adjusters to work unpaid off the-the-clock overtime in violation of California labor law.

The Allstate lawsuit was brought by casualty adjuster Jack Jimenez in 2010, on behalf of any claims adjuster working for the insurer in the state of California since September 29, 2006. The complaint alleges that Allstate’s managers are required to stay within an annual budget that includes overtime compensation, and that the performance evaluations and bonuses paid to managers are dependent on how closely they conform to the budget. This would mean that a manager would have a disincentive to approve and report overtime, the class claims.

The class action alleges that Allstate sees repeated requests for overtime as a performance issue to be addressed with individual workers “including “suggestions” on how a claims adjuster can be better trained on efficiency and alternative methods of getting the work done that do not require overtime. Managers would often see workers performing off-the-clock work outside of their scheduled shifts but not inquire if overtime was requested, the workers say.

The plaintiffs contend Allstate’s allegedly illegal conduct has been widespread and consistent. The class action suit alleges that Allstate had not paid overtime to current and former California-based claims adjusters in violation of California Labor Code and had not paid adjusters for missed meal breaks and that Allstate had not timely paid wages upon termination in violation of the California Labor Code. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Allstate engaged in unfair competition in violation of California Business and Professions Code.

FYI—the case is: Jack Jimenez v. Allstate Insurance Company – CV 10-8486 AHM (FFMx). 

How much for that X-Ray? Two Florida women recently filed a class action lawsuit alleges JFK Medical Center and parent company HCA, Inc., are in violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Practices ActSpecifically the plaintiffs allege they and others like them were billed exorbitant and unreasonable fees for emergency radiological services covered in part by their Florida Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance.

Under Florida’s No Fault Car Insurance Law, drivers are required to have $10,000 in PIP insurance, which has a 20 percent out-of-pocket deductible. The complaint, filed in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Hillsborough County, charges JFK Medical Center, of Atlantis, Fla., and other Florida HCA facilities with billing PIP patients’ rates for radiological services that are 20 to 65 times higher than the rates charged for similar services to non-PIP patients.

The lawsuit was brought by Marisela Herrera and Luz Sanchez, both of whom were PIP-covered patients who were treated through JFK Medical Center’s emergency department after their automobile accidents in April 2013 and May 2013, respectively. Herrera and Sanchez each received a CT of the brain for $6,404, a CT scan of the spine for $5,900, and a thoracic spine X-ray for $2,222. Herrera also received a lumbar spine X-ray for $3,359.

According to the South Florida Medicare rate, a standard used for customary and reasonable medical service rates, the brain CT scan provided is $163.96; the cervical spine CT scan, $213.14; and the thoracic spine x-ray, with three views, $38.

The complaint charges that because of the exorbitant rates, both Herrera’s and Sanchez’s $10,000 PIP coverage were prematurely exhausted and both were billed thousands of dollars by JFK Medical Center for radiological services not paid for by their PIP insurers.

The complaint also charges breach of contract since both women entered into a “Condition of Admission” contract that provides that patients must pay their accounts at the rates stated in the hospital’s price list. Neither woman was provided a price list at the time of medical treatment.

Plaintiffs are represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Boldt Law Firm, of Hollywood, FL, and Gonzalez & Cartwright, P.A., of Lake Worth, FL. 

Top Settlements 

Ah—one ringy dingy—that will be $32 million thank you! That’s right folks—a $32 million settlement has been reached in a Telephone Consumer protection Act (TCPA) class action pending against Bank of America (BofA). The BofA lawsuit claims the bank and FIA Card Services, also a defendant, violated the TCPA when it used automatic telephone dialing systems and/or an artificial or prerecorded voice to contact individuals without obtaining prior express consent from those individuals.

The ruling certifies a class for settlement purposes including all individuals who received allegedly unauthorized automated phone calls from BofA regarding mortgage loan and credit card accounts between 2007 and 2013. The class also includes people who allegedly received unauthorized text messages to their cell phones, between 2009 and 2010. The class is thought to total roughly 7 million members.

The preliminary settlement, if approved, could be an amount the parties claim to be the largest ever obtained in a finalized TCPA settlement, according to an order filed Friday approving the deal.

In addition to the monetary portion of the settlement, Bank of America has improved its servicing systems such that they prevent the calling of a cellphone unless a loan servicing record is systematically coded to reflect the customer’s prior express consent to receive calls via their cell phone. 

Ok Folks–time to adjourn for the week.  Have a fab weekend—see you at the bar!