Week Adjourned: 1.15.16 – EOS Lip Balm, Priceline, Vioxx

EOSTop Class Action Lawsuits

EOS Evolution of Sore? Heads up anyone who purchased EOS lip balm—the celebrity-endorsed lip balm—got hit with a consumer fraud class action lawsuit this week, alleging the product causes lips to crack, bleed and blister. Yah, that’s a great look.

EOS, which stands for Evolution of Smooth, pays celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Brittney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Hillary Duff, and others, to post pictures on Instagram and social media, creating a viral marketing frenzy around the product, targeted at consumers. EOS claims the lip-balm is, in addition to making lips smooth, a travel companion and a cure for health and hygiene problems.

Filed by Plaintiff Rachael Cronin, the EOS lawsuit alleges Cronin purchased EOS lip balm based on these claims. As with all of EOS packaging, the packaging contained no warnings about potential adverse side-effects from the products use. Ms. Cronin began applying the lip balm that same day she purchased it. Within hours of applying the product for the first time, her lips became substantially dry and coarse, what Ms. Cronin describes as feeling like “sandpaper,” causing her to apply more of the balm on her lip to achieve the results of becoming “sensationally smooth.”

However, Ms. Cronin’s lips did not become smooth, instead they began severely cracking on the edges causing flaking and bleeding from the cracks. (Sensationally sore? New tag line maybe?) By the next day, Ms. Cronin’s lips and surrounding skin area allegedly had severe blistering and rashes causing her to seek medical care on Monday, December 7, 2015. Ms. Cronin was in severe shock and panic. Her symptoms lasted approximately 10 days. Not good.

Ms. Cronin shared the story of her experience with EOS and posted a picture of her face with boils and blisters on Facebook. The post set off a frenzy of responses from other individuals who shared the identical experience with EOS. It became clear this was not an isolated incident but instead hundreds, possibly tens of thousands of consumers may be affected.

The case is 2:16-cv-00235.

Priceline Profiting? Priceline got hit with a proposed consumer fraud class action lawsuit this week, over allegations it collects taxes from customers for hotel rooms, car rentals and airline tickets booked through the site, but those taxes are not returned to customers when reservations go unused. That’s a nice little earner—if true.

According to the Priceline lawsuit, filed by Priceline customer Richard Laquer, the taxes and fees collected for his car rental in June in San Francisco were not returned to him even though he never picked up the car. Additionally, he claims that this money was never paid to local tax authorities, meaning The Priceline Group Inc, was unfairly profiting from its collection. Ka ching!

“Priceline Group, in charging ‘taxes and fees’ for a rental or purchase transactions that did not complete, violated various local, state and federal laws regarding the charge and collection of taxes,” the lawsuit states. “Priceline Group has been unjustly enriched by the charge and collection of ‘taxes and fees’ for vehicle rentals that did not occur.”

Laquer claims that he used the “Name Your Own Price” feature on the Priceline website to reserve a car rental for $35. However, he was also charged an additional $19.05 in “taxes and fees” for the transaction. When he did not rent the car Priceline kept the charges, the lawsuit states.

“Priceline Group knew when these representations were made, or made them as a positive assertion recklessly, that it would not pay the ‘taxes and fees’ it collected from plaintiff and the putative class members to the various federal, state and local taxing authorities in the event the rental or purchase was not completed,” the complaint states.

The potential class action asserts negligence, unjust enrichment and false representation. It is seeking disgorgement of the taxes and fees collected by Priceline and not returned with canceled orders and actual and punitive damages of not less than $5 million, and an injunction prohibiting the company from charging taxes and fees in the future unless a transaction is completed.

The case is Laquer et al. v. The Priceline Group Inc., case number 5:16-cv-00015, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. 

Top Settlements

Vioxx Socked…Again. Wow—talk about the drug that will not die. This week, Merck announced it will pay $830 million to end the Vioxx multidistrict litigation brought by investors who alleged securities fraud violations concerning the illegal marketing of the company’s now defunct NSAID pain killer Vioxx. In 2011, Merck agreed to pay a criminal penalty of almost $1 billion over its marketing of Vioxx.

In a statement issued by Merck & Co. Inc, the pharmaceutical company denied any wrongdoing, and noted that it still faces individual lawsuits stemming from the same alleged misconduct, specifically that it marketed Vioxx for off-label uses and downplayed its risk of causing heart attacks.

The allegations made by investors are similar to those of the criminal case, alleging Merck attempted to conceal Vioxx’s cardiovascular risks, and claimed that patients taking the drug in a clinical study for rheumatoid arthritis were five times more likely to suffer a heart attack than those who took the comparator drug, naproxen.

In 2004 Merck was forced to recall Vioxx. The recall, in conjunction with media reports concerning the associated risks of the drug, caused Merck’s stock price to fall dramatically, according to the investors, whose claims against the company were consolidated in New Jersey federal court the following year.

The case is In re: Merck & Co. Inc. Securities, Derivative & ERISA Litigation, MDL number 1658 and case numbers 2:05-cv-01151 and 2:05-cv-02367, in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

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


Week Adjourned: 7.24.15 – Priceline, JP Morgan Chase, Foot Locker

PricelineTop Class Action Lawsuits

Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” …may be rebranded as “Name Your Own Settlement” if this goes to court. The internet-based hotel booking company is facing a proposed consumer fraud class action lawsuit alleging it conceals known, mandatory resort fees from “Name Your Own Price” bidders, misleading thousands of customers about the actual price of their bookings. Something to do with hidden resort fees—ringing any bells folks?

Filed in in Connecticut federal court by lead plaintiff Adam Singer, the Priceline lawsuit contends that travelers who use Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” feature to bid on hotel rooms, end up paying undisclosed fees to Hilton and other hotels on top of what they offered.

“This conduct renders the ‘Name Your Own Price’ option illegal and deceptive,” the complaint states. “Due to defendant’s conduct, a consumer is not ‘naming his own price’ for a hotel stay at all.”

In the complaint, Singer states he used the “Name Your Own Price” option to find a hotel in Puerto Rico within his budget. Priceline matched him with a Hilton property and presented with a contract, which quoted his offer price plus $60.68 in taxes and fees, which he accepted.

However, the Priceline lawsuit contends that when Singer went to check out of the property, the hotel had added $66 in mandatory resort fees in addition to the price he had agreed to pay through Priceline, prior to his stay. The lawsuit alleges that Singer was not informed in advance of those fees as Priceline didn’t adequately inform him that any resort fees would be included in the total price for his accommodation.

“Priceline could easily have programmed its Name Your Own Price bidding system to account for resort fees which it knew full well would be charged and thus match consumers only with hotels truly willing to accept their bid amounts,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, it affirmatively chose to delete resort fees from ‘total’ ‘taxes and service fees,’ in order to make it appear to consumers that they were getting a better deal than they truly were.”

The lawsuit further claims that Hilton benefits from Priceline’s deception because it charge guests, after the fact, more than they would knowingly consent to pay.

“By the plain terms of the Priceline.com booking contract, Hilton had no right to charge mandatory resort fees on that booking,” the complaint states. “By recovering an additional, baseless fee in the form of the resort fee, defendants are able to reduce its advertised room rates by the amount of the resort fee without any negative impact when price-conscious consumers compare rates across hotels.”

Singer is seeking to represent a class of Priceline “Name Your Own Price” customers allegedly misled by the booking site’s silence on resort fees and a subclass of consumers who booked Hilton stays that cost more than expected for that reason.

The case is Singer v. The Priceline Group Inc. et al., case number 3:15-cv-1090, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. 

Top Settlements

They’re Baaaack...Here’s one for the record books, apparently, and likely in more ways than one.

A $388 million settlement has been agreed between JPMorgan Chase and a group of investors who alleged the bank misled them regarding the level of risk associated with certain investments. Specifically, the securities lawsuit refers to $10 billion worth of residential mortgage-backed securities (MBS) sold by JP Morgan Chase before the financial crisis of 2008. Remember those?

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of investors and two pension funds, namely Laborers Pension Trust Fund for Northern California and Construction Laborers Pension Trust for Southern California. In the lawsuit, they alleged the values of their investments were severely impacted by the losses incurred on the mortgage bonds during the financial crisis. (Whose investments weren’t impacted by MBS fraud?)

According to a statement issued by JP Morgan Chase, this settlement represents, on a percentage basis, “the largest recovery ever achieved in an MBS purchaser class action.” And that’s something they’re proud of?

Foot Locker Gets Clocked. Here’s a long-deserved bit of good news for Foot Locker employees. Final approval of a $7.1 million settlement has been granted, ending a long-running wage and hour class action against Foot Locker Inc. The lawsuit, brought by Foot Locker workers, alleged the retail shoe chain violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that Foot Locker workers were not compensated for maintenance work and time spent working before opening and after closing. Further, the lawsuit claimed that company employees were forced to do work off-the-clock or have their paid time cut in order to complete their tasks.

According to the allegations, Foot Locker directly tied the compensation of its store managers to its labor budget set by the corporate office, in order to enforce the compensation policy. If the managers exceeded the budget, they were punished, according to the original complaint filed in 2007 by named plaintiff Francisco Pereira.

The nationwide FLSA class includes all current and former Foot Locker employees who worked at least one hour from March 2007 to March 2010 in the US as a retail employee but not as an assistant store manager or higher. A separate Illinois class includes any retail employee excluding assistant store managers and above who worked in the state from October 2005 to May 2011.

The case is In Re: Foot Locker Inc. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Wage and Hour Litigation, case number 2:11-md-02235, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Ok – That’s a wrap folks…See you at the Bar!