Week Adjourned: 11.13.15 – Cheerios, GNC, JCPenney

Cheerios ProteinTop Class Action Lawsuits

Cheery-oh-ho-ho-NOT! General Mills—accused of going a heavy on the hot air and light on substance. Cheerios is the subject of a false advertising class action filed alleging that General Mills misleads customers about the amount of protein in its popular cereal Cheerios Protein. Filed in federal court, the lawsuit asserts that a side by side comparison of Original Cheerios and Cheerios Protein shows that Cheerios Protein does not contain as much protein as the original version. Say wha…?

The Cheerios lawsuit asserts that General Mills is marketing Cheerios Protein as a “high protein, healthful alternative to Cheerios” when it does not contain much more protein than Original Cheerios. “Rather than protein, the principal ingredient that distinguishes Cheerios Protein from Cheerios is sugar,” the suit states.

According to the complaint, the Nutrition Facts Panel on the boxes cite a 4 gram difference in protein (7 for Cheerios Protein versus 3 grams for the original), a “smidgen”. However, the lawsuit attributes that to a larger serving size (55 grams as opposed to 27 respectively). The complaint goes on to state that for the same 200 calories, there is only a 0.7 gram difference between Cheerios Protein Oats and Honey (6.7 grams) and Original Cheerios (6 grams).

Further, the lawsuit alleges that Cheerios Protein contains significantly more sugar than Original Cheerios cereal. By way of example, a 1 1/4-cup serving of Cheerios Protein Oats and Honey has 17 grams of sugar, whereas Original Cheerios has 1 gram for a 1 cup serving. Similarly, a 1 1/4 cup serving of the Cinnamon Almond variety has 16 grams, according to the documents.

The Cheerios lawsuit states that the advertising for Cheerios Protein says it’s a “great start to your day” along with pictures of “appealing photographic images depicting healthy and successful kids and parents.” Further, “These claims and images are part of a sophisticated marketing campaign to encourage parents to purchase Cheerios Protein for their children; and the sweet taste of the product helps ensure that children will eat the product,” the lawsuit states.

In a report by ABC News, the agency stated it also found Cheerios Protein Oats and Honey to have more sugar than every other variety of Cheerios on the market: with 10.2 grams for a 3/4 cup serving. Apple Cinnamon Cheerios has the second most with 10 grams and third is Cheerios Protein Cinnamon Almond at 9.6 grams. Frosted Cheerios, Fruity Cheerios and Chocolate Cheerios have 9 grams each, the calculations found.

Heads Up for GNC Supplement Users…there’s more to those supplements than you thought… No stranger to lawsuits, GNC is facing a dangerous drugs class action alleging the company includes dangerous ingredients, such as picamilon, a synthetic neurotransmitter, and amphetamine-like BMPEA in its products. Filed by lead plaintiff, Chris Lynch, the lawsuit asserts that the company knew or should have known the products were actually “spiked” with BMPEA.

Picamilon is a prescription drug legal in some countries, but not the United States. It is used to treat a variety of neurological conditions. BMPEA is a synthetic chemical similar to amphetamine that is banned by the World Anti-Doping Organization, according to the complaint.

“This action arises from defendant’s failure, despite its knowledge (read consumer fraud) that the products are dangerous and not fit for dietary purposes, to disclose and/or warn plaintiff and other consumers,” Lynch states in the lawsuit. “Indeed, defendant has undertaken to conceal vital information concerning the risks of the product.”

The proposed GNC class action cites Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum’s October 22 suit alleging that the company sold dietary supplements that contained picamilon and BMPEA.

“Despite this … notice to GNC that Picamilon is an unlawful ingredient and that products that contain Picamilon are adulterated, GNC continued to sell products that contain Picamilon nationally and in Pennsylvania,” the suit states. “GNC did not cease selling such products until after Oregon’s Attorney General issued a document ‘Notice of Unlawful Trace Practices and Proposed Resolution’ on September 21, 2015.”

Further, Lynch alleges that as early as 2007, GNC was aware that picamilon is a synthetic drug created by Soviet researchers, and not a lawful dietary ingredient, pointing to documents reviewed by GNC’s technical research senior project manager.

Despite widespread knowledge that the Acacia rigidula products were at high risk of having been adulterated with BMPEA, GNC continued to sell these products without testing them to see if they were spiked with BMPEA, or telling consumers about the risk, according to the complaint.

The case is Lynch v. GNC, case number 2:15-cv-01466 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. 

Top Settlements

JCPenney’s Pricing Has Preliminary Settlement… JCPenney has reached a preliminary settlement agreement in a consumer fraud class action lawsuit brought on behalf of California customers who purchased certain JCPenney private or exclusive branded products.

The lawsuit, filed in 2012, arises from the price comparison advertising of private and exclusive branded products JCPenney used in California between November 2010 and January 2012. Plaintiff claims, among other things, that JCPenney’s practices did not comply with California law. JCPenney denies the allegations and is entering into this settlement to eliminate the uncertainties, burden and expense of further protracted litigation.

If approved, according to the terms of the settlement, JCPenney will make available $50 million to settle class members’ claims. Class members will have the option of selecting a cash payment or store credit. The amount of the payment or credit will depend on the total amount purchased by each class member during the class period.

The settlement agreement also states that JCPenney will implement and/or continue certain improvements to its price comparison advertising policies and practices, including periodic monitoring and training programs designed to ensure compliance with California’s advertising laws.

The lawsuit, Cynthia E. Spann v. J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc., is pending in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Ok—That’s a wrap folks… Happy Friday…See you at the Bar!

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: 7.5.13 – Kendra Wilkinson AbCuts, BofA, BP Bad Gas

The week’s top class action lawsuits and settlements. This week, top stories include Kendra Wilkinson and AbCuts diet supplements, Bank of America debt collection harassment, and BP contaminated gas.

AbCutsTop Lawsuits

The Girls Next Door are in trouble—well—one of them at any rate. Kendra Wilkinson, the former star of “The Girls Next Door” and “Kendra,” is facing a consumer fraud class action lawsuit over allegations she advertised a fat loss supplement that is ineffective and possibly dangerous to people’s health. The other named defendants are marketer Corr-Jensen Inc, and nutritional supplement retailer GNC Corp.

Adam Karhu filed the Kendra Wilkinson weight loss lawsuit, alleging the diet supplement “Ab Cuts” (Abdominal Cuts) fat loss supplement was advertised by Wilkinson as “a health supplement, not a diet pill,” which was false and misleading. Ok people, really? In what universe does the name Ab Cuts sound like a health supplement?

Entitled Karhu v. Corr-Jensen Labs Inc. et al., Case No. 13-cv-03583, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the lawsuit specifically claims that Wilkinson promotes Ab Cuts on her website and through Facebook and Twitter, in addition to appearing on almost all product promotions, including appearances on talk show appearances and in celebrity magazines. According to the lawsuit, Wilkinson makes paid appearances at GNC stores across the country, claiming that Ab Cuts is her “I-Cheat-Every-Day Diet.” Note to Kendra: careful what you say…this lawsuit may give new meaning to “cheat”…)

The Ab Cuts product line has 11 different dietary supplement products all made with the same active ingredient, conjugated linoleic acid (“CLA”). According to the product advertising, CLA promotes fat and weight loss. But—according to the lawsuit, the science just ain’t there. In fact, the complaint alleges that CLA may actually increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. That sounds healthy!

Putative members of the Kendra Wilkinson diet lawsuit include anyone in the US who bought Ab Cuts, excluding people who purchased the products for resale. The AbCuts lawsuit alleges breach of express warranty, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, unjust enrichment, violation of the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act, and for violation of New York’s consumer protection laws.

Bank of America (BoFA) got nailed this week, with a debt collection harassment class action lawsuit alleging America’s biggest bank is in violation of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act. Add this to the list of possible legal digressions.

Filed by Broward County resident Marc Katz, the lawsuit, entitled, Marc Katz v. Bank of America NA, case number 0:13-cv-61372, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florid, alleges BoFA uses automated dialers to call the cell phones of people who have debt with the bank. That would certainly raise your blood pressure.

Specifically, Katz claims that in 2010 BoFA launched a mortgage foreclosure action against him in Florida state court. The bank then continued to call his cellphone using automated dialing systems in an effort to try and collect the purported debt. This occurred even after the bank was told to contact Katz’s attorney for anything related to the foreclosure action, according to the lawsuit.

“Despite receipt of a letter of representation, and its inherent cease communication directive, defendant’s continued collection efforts involved the placement of auto-dialed calls and/or recorded messages to the cellular telephones of allegedly delinquent consumers,” the debt collection harassment class action lawsuit states.

Further, Katz claims that when he answered the calls a machine-operated voice would advise him to “please hold for the next available representative,” forcing him to wait and listen to music or “dead air” before an actual person came on the line, the lawsuit states. “Defendant’s persistent and unlawful calling campaign was carried out with the intent to abuse and harass the plaintiff,” the lawsuit claims.

Heads up—the lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a putative class consisting of all individuals in Florida who were the subject of Bank of America’s debt collection activities related to their residential property in Florida and who were represented by counsel with respect to said debt and still received pre-recorded or auto-dialed calls on their cellphones from the bank over the past four years.

Top Settlements

Did you buy dodgy gas from BP? If so, you may be in line for some cash. The petrochemical giant (BP Products North America Inc), reached a $7 million defective product settlement concerning allegations it sold contaminated gasoline. Contaminated gasoline? Don’t get me started.

According to a statement issued on the settlement, the BP contaminated gas lawsuit was filed after BP recalled approximately 4.7 million gallons of contaminated gasoline, which it distributed from its Whiting, Indiana, refinery to more than 575 retail outlets in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio.

Various problems, ranging from engine issues to damaged fuel systems, resulted from the use of the contaminated gasoline, affecting thousands of customers. According to the statement, people who are eligible for a portion of the settlement will be notified in the near future…

Ok folks, Happy July 4 Weekend! See you at the bar!