Week Adjourned: 7.29.16 – Kroger, T-Mobile, Enbridge Energy

krogerTop Class Action Lawsuits

Good Food Gone Bad…it’s the subject of a food poisoning class action lawsuit filed against the Kroger Co., The Pictsweet Co. and CRF Frozen Foods LLC and frozen vegetable manufacturers over allegations that the family of Roger Coffelt Jr., was made sick from Listeria contaminated foods. That’s not funny.

Coffelt Jr. filed the complaint alleging the peas his family ate caused illness to and Listeria infection of Coffelt Jr.s’ family members. He claims The Kroger Co., The Pictsweet Co., CRF Frozen Foods LLC are responsible because the defendants allegedly had grown, processed and sold the adulterated subject frozen peas and maintained their food production and packing facilities in an unsanitary and unhygienic condition.

Coffelt, and all those in the class, are seeking damages for not more than $30,000,000 plus penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs and for such other and further relief as the court deems proper. The case is US District Court for the Central District of California Case number 5:16-cv-01471.

Orwellian Credit Checks by T-Mobile? According to an unfair business practices class action lawsuit filed by a consumer, yes.

Filed by Erik Shapiro on behalf of all others similarly situated, the T-Mobile complaint states that in February 2014, Shapiro contacted the defendant to inquire about its phone plans and the possibility of switching his provider to T-Mobile. He alleges that the defendant performed a hard credit check on him, rather than a soft credit check as they stated they would do. As a result of the defendant’s action, the plaintiff sustained damages.

The plaintiff holds T-Mobile USA Inc. responsible because the defendant allegedly misrepresented to plaintiff that they would only do a soft credit check but did a hard credit check without plaintiff’s permission and consent. If true—really not good.

Heads up—the case is US District Court for the Central District of California Case number 2:16-cv-04698-RGK-MRW.

Top Settlements

Oil Spill Settlement…A long time in coming—but at least it’s here—a $177 million settlement agreement has been reached between Canadian pipeline operator Enbridge Energy Limited Partnership and the US federal government regarding the 2010 oil spills in Michigan and Illinois.

The US Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice announced a settlement with Enbridge Energy Limited Partnership and several related Enbridge companies to resolve claims stemming from its 2010 oil spills in Marshall, MI and Romeoville, IL.

Enbridge has agreed to spend at least $110 million on a series of measures to prevent spills and improve operations across nearly 2,000 miles of its pipeline system in the Great Lakes region. Enbridge will also pay civil penalties totaling $62 million for Clean Water Act violations—$61 million for discharging at least 20,082 barrels of oil in Marshall and $1 million for discharging at least 6,427 barrels of oil in Romeoville.

In addition, the proposed settlement will resolve Enbridge’s liability under the Oil Pollution Act, based on Enbridge’s commitment to pay over $5.4 million in unreimbursed costs incurred by the government in connection with cleanup of the Marshall spill, as well as all future removal costs incurred by the government in connection with that spill. The settlement includes an extensive set of specific requirements to prevent spills and enhance leak detection capabilities throughout Enbridge’s Lakehead pipeline system – a network of 14 pipelines spanning nearly 2,000 miles across seven states. Enbridge must also take major actions to improve its spill preparedness and emergency response programs. Under the settlement, Enbridge is also required to replace close to 300 miles of one of its pipelines, after obtaining all necessary approvals.

Ok, that’s a wrap folks… See you at the Bar!

Week Adjourned: 7.22.16 – Apple, Blue Shield, Herbalife

.appleTop Class Action Lawsuits

Bad Apple, Again? Yet another lawsuit against Apple, this one set to take a bite over allegations of consumer fraud surrounding devices that are replaced via AppleCare+ warranty with refurbished replacements that don’t meet a specific clause in the contract.

Filed in California, on behalf of plaintiff Vicky Maldonado and others similarly situated, the proposed class action alleges the clause claiming refurbished devices are “equivalent to new in performance and reliability” is false.

According to the Apple lawsuit allegations, a refurbished device is a “secondhand unit that has been modified to appear to be new” and therefore can’t be equivalent in durability and functionality as a new unit. Maldonado filed the suit after she purchased a third generation iPad and then cracked the screen after owning it for six months.

As the damage to Maldonado’s iPad was accidental in nature, she was forced to replace her tablet at an out of pocket cost of $250, according to the suit. However, she was told that for another $100 the AppleCare+ program would replace the tablet if similarly damaged in the future. Allegedly, the replacement iPad Maldonado was given under the warranty did not function properly and since it had impaired functionality, the tablet wasn’t equivalent to new, the suit asserts.

Following this, in 2013 Maldonado bought another iPad, a fourth generation model. She claims that she wasn’t informed that she would get a refurbished device if she damaged the tablet. When she tried to get a repair for the device in May 2015, she was given a refurbished device instead. According to court filings, she claims the device she received wasn’t equivalent to that of a new device either in performance or reliability.

Policy Policing Needed? Blue Shield got slapped with a consumer fraud class action lawsuit this week, filed by enrollees who allege the insurer owes its members another $35 million in rebates due to errors in its medical-loss ratio calculation of 2014. That’s some accounting error, if true…

Brought by plaintiffs Becky Ebenkamp and Rebecca Morris, the Blue Shield class action lawsuit seeks to represent more than 446,000 individual policy holders from that year.

According to federal law, insurers are required to issue refunds if they don’t spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on medical care or on improving the quality of care. The complaint alleges Blue Shield improperly counted certain payments as medical expenses it had made erroneously in 2014 to providers who were not in its network and patients whose coverage had lapsed. By counting those mistaken payments as legitimate medical expenses, Blue Shield pushed itself closer to the 80 percent threshold, thus reducing the size of the refunds it owed, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit states that under the consumer refund rule, those payments should have been logged as administrative expenses, and Blue Shield customers are therefore entitled to a bigger refund.

The rebate rule, part of the Affordable Care Act, is intended to contain the cost of health coverage by limiting the share of premiums insurers can spend on administrative functions, executive salaries, overhead and profits. If an insurer spends only 75 percent of premium dollars on care, for example, it must send refund checks to enrollees equal to 5 percent of the premiums they paid.

Who knew? Ah, precisely.

Top Settlements

Herbalife to Pay Up…Remember that old adage, if it sounds too good to be true? Well, Herbalife International of America, Inc., Herbalife International, Inc., and Herbalife, Ltd. have agreed to fully restructure their US business operations and pay $200 million to compensate consumers to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consumer fraud charges that the companies deceived consumers into believing they could earn substantial money selling diet, nutritional supplement, and personal care products.

In its complaint against Herbalife, the FTC also charged that the multi-level marketing company’s compensation structure was unfair because it rewards distributors for recruiting others to join and purchase products in order to advance in the marketing program, rather than in response to actual retail demand for the product, causing substantial economic injury to many of its distributors.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Herbalife claims that people who participate can expect to quit their jobs, earn thousands of dollars a month, make a career-level income, or even get rich. But the truth, as alleged in the FTC complaint, is that the overwhelming majority of distributors who pursue the business opportunity earn little or no money.

For example, as stated in the complaint, the average amount that more than half the distributors known as “sales leaders” received as reward payments from Herbalife was under $300 for 2014. According to a survey Herbalife itself conducted, which is described in the complaint, Nutrition Club owners spent an average of about $8,500 to open a club, and 57 percent of club owners reported making no profit or losing money.

The small minority of distributors who do make a lot of money, according to the complaint, are compensated for recruiting new distributors, regardless of whether those recruits can sell the products they are encouraged to buy from Herbalife.

Finding themselves unable to make money, the FTC’s complaint alleges, Herbalife distributors abandon Herbalife in large numbers. The majority of them stop ordering products within their first year, and nearly half of the entire Herbalife distributor base quits in any given year.

The Herbalife settlement requires Herbalife to revamp its compensation system so that it rewards retail sales to customers and eliminates the incentives in its current system that reward distributors primarily for recruiting. It mandates a new compensation structure in which success depends on whether participants sell Herbalife products, not on whether they buy products.

The settlement also prohibits Herbalife from misrepresenting distributors’ potential or likely earnings. The order specifically prohibits Herbalife from claiming that members can “quit their job” or otherwise enjoy a lavish lifestyle.

In addition, the order imposes a $200 million judgment against Herbalife to provide consumer redress, including money for consumers who purchased large quantities of Herbalife products (such as many Nutrition Club owners, among others) and lost money. Information on the FTC’s redress program will be announced at a later date.

Ok, that’s a wrap folks… See you at the Bar!

Week Adjourned: 7.15.16 – Snapchat, Caterpillar, 21st Century Fox

snapchatTop Class Action Lawsuits

Snapchat got Slapped…with a potential consumer fraud and unfair business practices class action lawsuit this week—over allegedly exposing minors to “harmful, offensive, prurient, and sexually offensive” content without warning.

Here’s the skinny: the Snapchat lawsuit was filed by the mother of a 14 year old boy (John Doe), who alleges publishers are sharing content that parents would likely prohibit if they knew their children were being given unrestricted access. The complaint highlights stories like Buzzfeed’s “23 Pictures That Are Too Real If You’ve Ever had Sex With A Penis,” (illustrated with scenes from Disney animated movies) and Vice’s “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Penis Tattoos.” Who knew there was such a thing—?

According to the proposed suit, “Innocent pictures from John’s favorite Disney movies were perverted into obscene sexual images and text.” Nice.

Additionally, the offensive content is mixed with messages from Snapchat stating things like, “If They Don’t Snap You On A Daily Basis It Isn’t Real,” according to the complaint.

Snapchat allows users to send photos and videos that disappear. According to the suit, while the app is frequently accused of promoting sexting among teens, parents may not be aware of the explicit content being shared on Discover by media outlets, without any warning or age verification.

“Although Snapchat claims to have pivoted away from its founding roots which included promoting surreptitious ‘sexting’ with disappearing text and images, the content Snapchat develops and curates on Snapchat Discover paints a different and dangerous picture,” the lawsuit states.

Created in 2015, Snapchat Discover was designed as a place where handpicked media outlets could share content. According to the complaint, “Snapchat exercises direct control over its editorial content and what is published.”

The suit alleges that while Snapchat’s terms of service does say that its app is restricted to users older than 13 years old, it does not warn against potential offensive content found on Snapchat Discover.

Top Settlements

Caterpillar Exhaust(ed)…Here’s a beauty. Caterpillar Inc, has reached a preliminary $60 million settlement agreement in a defective products class action lawsuit alleging its engines equipped with exhaust emission control systems failed to work reliably, costing owners thousands.

The lawsuit claimed Caterpillar engines with the CAT Regeneration System (CRS), failed, causing the company’s ACERT C13 and C15 on-highway diesel engines to lose horsepower and shut down. The alleged defect resulted in Caterpillar-authorized dealer technicians having to repair the engines, they allegedly could not effectively do.

The Defendant denies the allegations in the lawsuit, and the Court has not decided who is right.

The Settlement offers payments to current and former owners and lessees of vehicles with EPA 2007 Compliant Caterpillar On Highway C13 and C15 engines (manufactured in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009) (“Subject Engines”).

Caterpillar introduced its ACERT engines as their alternative to exhaust-gas recirculation, or EGR, to meet 2004 emissions standards.

Class members who experienced no CRS-related repairs are eligible to receive, but not guaranteed, $500 for each subject engine.

Class members who experienced one to five qualified CRS-related repairs are eligible to receive, but not guaranteed, $5,000 per subject engine.

Those class members who experienced six or more qualified CRS-related repairs are eligible to receive, but not guaranteed, $10,000 per subject engine.

Each eligible class member also has the option—instead of seeking a payment as set forth above—to seek to claim losses up to a maximum of $15,000, experienced as a consequence of qualified CRS-related repairs. These losses can include but will not be limited to towing charges, rental charges and hotel charges. Proofs can include receipts, invoices, bills, etc.

All class members must file a claim in order to receive a payment.

The deadline to exclude yourself from the settlement is August 6, and the deadline to object to the settlement is August 21. The final fairness hearing is scheduled fro September 20, 2016.

Film Studio Interns Win One…Bit of a landmark this week—the employment class action lawsuit filed by interns who worked at 21st Century Fox Inc, and who alleged they should have been paid for their work at the company, but were not, reached a preliminary settlement this week.

According to court papers, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox Entertainment Group will pay $495 to each claimant who interned without pay for at least two weeks at various times between 2005 and 2010. Estimates suggest several dozen people are eligible to receive a share of the film studio intern settlement.

The ground breaking lawsuit sparked other, similar suits involving students and recent college graduates who alleged they worked free during their internships when, given their duties, they should have been paid. The lawsuits claim violations of state and federal minimum wage laws.

The two named plaintiffs in the 21st Century Fox class action, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, who interned on the 2010 movie “Black Swan,” would be paid a respective $7,500 and $6,000, provided the settlement agreement receives final court approval.

Ok, that’s a wrap folks… See you at the Bar!

Week Adjourned: 7.8.16 – UPS, Home Depot, Cash Store

ups logoTop Class Action Lawsuits

UPS not Delivering… on reporting pay, allegedly. The global courier service got hit with a UPS employment class action lawsuit this week, alleging the company cheated employees out of their rightful wages by failing to pay “Reporting Pay,” as required by Massachusetts law.

Cort Szafarz, the named plaintiff in the lawsuit, worked as a part-time package handler at UPS from September 2014 to May 2015 in their Chelmsford, Massachusetts facility. He was scheduled to work Monday through Friday from 6pm to 11pm. Although he planned to work for the full shift every weekday, and showed up at the Chelmsford facility every weekday ready to do so, his shift was often cancelled or shortened due to a lack of work. On such days, Mr. Szafarz and others were not paid for at least three hours of work. When Mr. Szafarz complained to Human Resources, he was told, “That’s just the way we do it here.”

Massachusetts, like many other states, requires employers to pay employees who show up for their scheduled shift, but are sent home due to a lack of work. This “Reporting Pay” law, as it is known, requires employers in Massachusetts to pay an employee for at least three hours of work, at the minimum wage, for every shift cancelled or shortened after an employee’s arrival at the job site.

Mr. Szafarz seeks to represent a class of other UPS hourly employees in Massachusetts who, like him, were not paid appropriately when their shifts were cancelled or shortened.

Giddy up!

They can Help? Maybe not at Home Depot… Consumer fraud class action against Home Depot hoping for a home run. This week the DIY giant found itself on the end of a consumer fraud class action lawsuit over allegations it failed to provide services and products as agreed.

To narrow that down just a bit, the Home Depot lawsuit, filed by plaintiff Ellen Coffen of California, claims that Coffen purchased new cabinets from the defendant for $12,000 with a $3,000 installation fee and additional $50 fee.

But… the cabinets Coffen purchased didn’t fit in the space designated for the kitchen installation, despite the fact that Home Depot installers had measured the space prior to their installation. Coffen claims that as a result, she had to return the cabinets to the defendant. Further, she had to pay for the second round of installation and the second set of new cabinets. Coffen asserts that the defendant allegedly failed to perform its duties and offer resolution when this issue arose.

Coffen states in the suit that Home Depot is in fact responsible as the DIY store allegedly assured her that they obtained the right measurement of the space to accommodate the cabinets that she purchased and that the cabinets were to be installed as part of their agreement.

The lawsuit cites alleged fraud and deceit, negligent infliction of emotional distress, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, breach of express and implied warranties, false advertising, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and unfair business practices.

The case is US District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division Case number 3:16-cv-03302-MEJ.

Top Settlements

Meanwhile—back in Canada…Cash Store and Instaloans may need to borrow some dough. They have to pony up $10 million in settlement of a consumer fraud class action pending against the now defunct business. Class members in Ontario who took out loans, also called lines of credit, will now be able to collect their share of the settlement.

The lawsuit, which represents some 100,000 customers, alleged that Cash Store Financial Services Inc., broke the Payday Loans Act by exceeding the maximum cost of borrowing allowed. According to Ontario law, it is illegal for payday lenders to charge more than $21 on every $100 lent. The plaintiffs claims that the defendant skirted the rules around maximum interest rates by adding additional fees for setting up debit cards, bank accounts, and other products.

At its peak, the Cash Store Financial Services Inc, had 500 outlets at its peak.

Ontarians who took out payday loans, or so-called lines of credit from either Cash Store or Instaloans after September 1, 2011 are being asked to file claims to recover some of the illegal fees and interest they were charged.

Eligible class members with approved claims could receive at least $50, with some, including those who took out multiple loans, possibly receiving more. The final amounts will depend on how many claims are submitted. Timothy Yeoman filed the lawsuit was filed in 2012 alleging he borrowed $400 for nine days and was charged $68.60 in fees and service charges as well as $78.72 in interest, bringing his total borrowing cost to $147.32.

Cha Ching!!

Ok, that’s a wrap folks… See you at the Bar!

Week Adjourned: 7.1.16 – Pampers, Volkswagen, Wells Fargo SPAM

Pampers wipesTop Class Action Lawsuits

Pampers Not So Pampering? The makers of Pampers Natural Clean baby wipes, Procter and Gamble (P&G), got hit with a consumer fraud class action complaint this week, over allegations its advertising ain’t clean.

Filed by Veronica Brenner, on behalf of all others similarly situated, the proposed Pampers wipes class action lawsuit claims that due to the false claims made by P&G, Brenner was misled into buying Pampers Natural Clean baby wipes.

Specifically, she alleges that testing of the wipes revealed they contain unnatural and harmful ingredients such as phenoxyethanol, which allegedly could cause harm to consumers, especially infants.

Brenner is seeking a jury trial and is seeking compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages, injunctive relief enjoining the defendant, interest, restitution and any other forms of monetary relief, court costs and any further relief the court grants.

The case is US District Court for the Central District of California Case number 8:16-cv-01093-CJC-JCG.

Top Settlements

VW To Pay…So, by now almost everyone must be aware that Volkswagen (VW) has reached agreements with  the United States and the State of California, and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), that will see it stump up $14.7 billion—the largest such payout of its type in US history—to end consumer fraud allegations over the now infamous VW emissions scandal.

Now, just to be clear, the settlements do not resolve pending claims for civil penalties or any claims concerning 3.0 liter diesel vehicles. Nor do they address any potential criminal liability. So stay tuned on that front.

The information on the settlements is provided more comprehensively on our dedicated Volkswagen emissions settlements pageBUT the super short versions are that VW will offer consumers a buyback and lease termination for nearly 500,000 model year 2009-2015 2.0 liter diesel vehicles sold or leased in the US, and spend up to $10.03 billion to compensate consumers under the program. In addition, the companies will spend $4.7 billion to mitigate the pollution from these cars and invest in green vehicle technology.

Additionally, the settlements partially resolve allegations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as the California Attorney General’s Office and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) under the Clean Air Act, California Health and Safety Code, and California’s Unfair Competition Laws, relating to the vehicles’ use of “defeat devices” to cheat emissions tests. The settlements also resolve claims by the FTC that Volkswagen violated the FTC Act through the deceptive and unfair advertising and sale of its “clean diesel” vehicles.

The affected vehicles include 2009 through 2015 Volkswagen TDI diesel models of Jettas, Passats, Golfs and Beetles as well as the TDI Audi A3.

The Buyback option: Volkswagen must offer to buy back any affected 2.0 liter vehicle at their retail value as of September 2015 — just prior to the public disclosure of the emissions issue. Consumers who choose the buyback option will receive between $12,500 and $44,000, depending on their car’s model, year, mileage, and trim of the car, as well as the region of the country where it was purchased. In addition, because a straight buyback will not fully compensate consumers who owe more than their car is worth due to rapid depreciation, the FTC order provides these consumers with an option to have their loans forgiven by Volkswagen. Consumers who have third party loans have the option of having Volkswagen pay off those loans, up to 130 percent of the amount a consumer would be entitled to under the buyback (e.g., if the consumer is entitled to a $20,000 buyback, VW would pay off his/her loans up to a cap of $26,000).

The EPA-approved modification to vehicle emissions system: The settlements also allow Volkswagen to apply to EPA and CARB for approval of an emissions modification on the affected vehicles, and, if approved, to offer consumers the option of keeping their cars and having them modified to comply with emissions standards. Under this option in accordance with the FTC order, consumers would also receive money from Volkswagen to redress the harm caused by VW’s deceptive advertising.

Consumers who leased the affected cars will have the option of terminating their leases (with no termination fee) or having their vehicles modified if a modification becomes available. In either case, under the FTC order, these consumers also will receive additional compensation from Volkswagen for the harm caused by VW’s deceptive advertising. Consumers who sold their TDI vehicles after the VW defeat device issue became public may be eligible for partial compensation, which will be split between them and the consumers who purchased the cars from them as set forth in the FTC order.

Wells Fargo SPAM Settlement… Another settlement to report this week—on the spam text messaging front. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (Wells) has agreed to a preliminary $16.3 million settlement to end claims it  made unauthorized calls to customers’ cell phones using an Automatic Telephone Dialing System (ATDS), in violation of the Telephone Consumer protection Act (TCPA).

The lawsuit, originally filed on April 14, 2015, alleged that the calls at issue were, without exception, non-emergency, debt-collection calls and texts made in connection with Home Equity Loans and Residential Mortgage Loans.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Wells would pay a non-reversionary cash sum of approximately $16,319,000, which, after deductions for costs and attorney’s fees, would be distributed on a pro rata basis to the Class Members who file qualified claims. The expected per-class-member cash award, while dependent upon the number of claims, may be in the range of $25 to $75.

The proposed Settlement Class is defined as: All users or subscribers to a wireless or cellular service within the United States who used or subscribed to a phone number to which Wells made or initiated one or more Calls during the Class Period using any automated dialing technology or artificial or prerecorded voice technology, according to Wells available records, and who are within Subclass One and/or Two.

Subclass One consists of “persons who used or subscribed to a cellular phone number to which Wells Fargo made or initiated a Call or Calls in connection with a Residential Mortgage Loan.”

Subclass Two consists of “persons who used or subscribed to a cellular phone number to which Wells Fargo made or initiated a Call or Calls in connection with a Home Equity Loan.”

Heads Up—a person who is a member of both Subclasses is eligible to make two claims on the Settlement Fund. The three Class Representatives are seeking awards for their time and effort on behalf of the Class, and Wells has agreed not to object to such incentive payments to be paid to Davis, Markos, and Page from the Settlement Fund provided that the payments do not exceed $60,000 in the aggregate or $20,000 for each Class Representative, subject to Court approval.

The case is Markos v. Well Fargo Bank, N.A. (United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Case No. 1:15-CV-01156).

Ok, that’s a wrap folks… Happy Canada Day and Fourth of July…. See you at the Bar!