A selection of the need-to-know civil justice news for the week of March 11-17.
A selection of the need-to-know civil justice news for the week of March 11-17.
Red Bull does not actually give you wings. Some of Subway’s famous footlongs do not measure exactly twelve inches. Chobani Greek yogurt is made in the United States, not Greece. None of these statements are shocking, but each of them has recently been the subject of well-publicized lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers. Continue reading
According to the New York Times, Josh Finkelman is the “Erin Brockovich of Super Bowl tickets.” After paying well over face value for tickets to Super Bowl XLVIII, which was held at Met Life Stadium in 2014, he sued the National Football League under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, arguing he should have been able to attend the game without buying expensive tickets on the secondary market.
Three years and multiple dismissals later, this case is still dragging on. Unfortunately, this is just one example of the many abusive lawsuits New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) has encouraged.
Rather than incentivizing legal shakedowns, our consumer protection laws should be doing what their name suggests – protecting consumers. It’s time for our Legislature to enact some common sense reforms that keep consumer protections in place, but don’t encourage legal abuse for profit. The ball is in the red zone, it is time to make a play.
Why? Because numerous state laws explicitly encourage litigation when other means of dispute resolution would be quicker and more cost effective; poorly drafted statutes invite endless lawsuits over their interpretation; and antiquated policies limit the ability of our state to improve its legal climate.
Things have gotten so far off track, New Jersey has been named one of the nation’s worst “judicial hellholes.” At this point, there is nowhere to go but up, and the time is right to make changes, both legislatively and via judicial action.
A selection of the need-to-know civil justice news for the week of December 3-9. Continue reading
The New Jersey Civil Justice Institute has filed an amicus brief in a class action brought by consumers who claim a restaurant’s failure to clearly post prices in the menu on all drink items violates New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) and Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty, and Notice Act (TCCWNA). NJCJI has been spearheading the effort to reform both the Consumer Fraud Act and the Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty, and Notice Act, so we are very interested in what the court will do with this case and a similar case where the court will decide whether “charging different prices for the same beverage, depending upon where in the restaurant the beverage was served” can be the basis of a CFA and TCCWNA class action. Continue reading
A selection of the need-to-know civil justice news for the week of November 26 – December 2.
Mike Helenthal | Legal News Line
Is at a matter of “more is less” or “what you see is what you get?” Slack fill lawsuits are on the rise, as any online user can see after typing the phrase into any search engine.
Alison Frankel | Reuters
For a smart man, New Jersey lawyer Harold Hoffman makes a lot of bad purchases. Since 2011, Hoffman has been duped repeatedly by supposedly deceptive labels or other misleading features of products he has bought. Or, at least, that is what Hoffman has alleged in dozens of consumer fraud class actions filed between 2011 and 2014 in New Jersey Superior Court, naming an array of defendants from Target, Whole Foods and Time Warner to small-timers like Joint Juice and Paradise Herbs. In no fewer than 100 cases, according to a list compiled by one of Hoffman’s targets, Hoffman has appeared as both lead plaintiff and lead counsel. His barrage of class actions has become so notorious that a New York litigation boutique ran a blog post in September 2015 entitled, “Have you been sued by Harold Hoffman?”
Debra Cassens Weiss | ABA Journal
A Texas judge has tossed a suit filed by a law firm over bad online reviews and ordered it to pay nearly $27,000 in attorney fees as a sanction for bringing the legal action.
This year’s nominees are:
Amusement Park Ride Makes Kid Dizzy
Amusement park rides are supposed to make you dizzy, right? Not according to the parents of a child who lost his balance and hit his head after getting off the Bugs Bunny Camp Carousel. They are suing Six Flags Great Adventure for $75,000 for their son’s alleged injuries. The real kicker is the child’s dizzy spell happened four years ago, but the lawsuit was just filed this year.
Void Where Prohibited
Scores of companies were dragged into New Jersey court this year by plaintiffs suing over the phrase “void where prohibited” being included in the terms and conditions of a company’s website. These companies could have to pay millions of dollars in damages despite the fact that there is no evidence that any of the consumers involved in any of these cases has been actually harmed. Because these suits are being brought as class actions, most of the money paid out will probably end up in the pockets of the attorneys bringing the suits.
Law Firm Sues Potential Client
The New Jersey law firm Jaffe & Asher LLP is upset it was not hired to represent Wells Fargo in pending litigation despite redecorating its offices, so it decided to sue the financial institution. This suit was technically not filed in New Jersey, but we’re not going to hold that against it.
100 Self-Serving Suits
Apparently New Jersey attorney Harold Hoffman has never heard the old adage “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Just a few years after a court chastised him bringing a Consumer Fraud Act suit against a company selling a penis enhancement product without actually trying the product, he was back in the news again. First for suing the popular Jewish dating website JDate for emailing him, and more recently for abusing the court system with procedural trickery. The court called him “a serial pro se class action litigant,” which is a bit of an understatement considering he has filed over 100 lawsuits on his own behalf under the guise of consumer protection. Hoffman’s double role in the suits he files raises some serious questions about his motives. Are the suits he files truly in the interest of New Jersey consumers? Or is he filing them simply to shake settlement dollars from deep pockets?
Gas Can Explodes When Used As Fire Starter
Walmart is being sued because a gas can it sold blew up when someone tried to start a fire with it.
Crazy Lawsuits are a Symptom of a Broken System
“I can’t deny it’s amusing to look back at all the crazy lawsuits that popped up in the New Jersey courts this year, but is important to remember that this is really not a laughing matter. These lawsuits exist because our legal system is fundamentally flawed,” said NJCJI president Marcus Rayner.
“Many of the worst lawsuits are filed because New Jersey law incentivizes them. When the law encourages a disregard for personal responsibility, or allows uninjured parties and their attorneys to collect a windfall, people are going to take advantage of it.”
“We want to highlight the results this sort of a system produces by awarding the title ‘Most Ludicrous Lawsuit’ to a deserving recipient. But we also want to work to improve our system so that these sorts of lawsuits become a thing of the past. Legal reform is a non-partisan, low-cost way to improve our state’s legal environment, and thus, our economy.”
Want to help us advance common sense legal reform in New Jersey? Fill out the “Quick Contact” box at the bottom of this page, and we will be in touch with information on how you can help fight lawsuit abuse.
A selection of the need-to-know civil justice news for the week of October 29-November 4.
A Gulfport attorney who said he choked on a piece of Popeyes’ fried chicken last year believes a plastic knife could have prevented all his pain and suffering. Now he’s suing to get plastic knives included in all drive-thru orders and monetary compensation for himself.
Sara Randazzo | Wall Street Journal
The disability lawsuits started hitting the Pittsburgh federal courthouse last July, all claiming corporations’ websites violated the law by not being accessible to the blind. The first round came against household names such as Foot Locker Inc., Toys “R” Us, Brooks Brothers Group Inc., and the National Basketball Association. Later suits targeted lesser-known retailers including Family Video Movie Club Inc. and Rue21 Inc.
Andrea Estes and Viveca Novak | The Boston Globe
Jon Tester didn’t come all the way from Montana for the scrambled eggs and bacon. The US senator, virtually unknown in Boston, was in a conference room at the Thornton Law Firm that June morning to cash in at one of the most reliable stops on the Democratic fund-raising circuit, a law firm that pours millions into the coffers of the party and its politicians. Tester, a massive, jovial man who raises livestock on his family farm, was more compelling than many of the other breakfast guests, all of them political candidates the firm hoped would defend the interests of trial attorneys. But the drill was basically the same. The personal injury lawyers listened politely for a few minutes, then returned to their offices. And Tester walked away with $26,400 in checks.
Jeannie O’Sullivan | Law360
A New Jersey attorney asked the Third Circuit on Friday to rethink frivolous-appeal sanctions it affirmed after it dismissed the pro se class action he’d filed over fish-oil supplements, arguing that his case was ripe for reconsideration because the appeals court adopted different reasoning than the district court.
Mike Maciag | Governing
In large cities across the country, court challenges can be a drain on municipal coffers. To gauge the fiscal impact of claims and lawsuits, Governing requested financial data from the two dozen largest cities in the U.S., the first such national review of comprehensive legal costs. Twenty cities responded, and their combined financial information paints a picture of just how significant these claims costs can be. All totaled, the cities paid out more than $1.2 billion in their last fiscal year.
In a recent issue of the New Jersey Law Journal, the Editorial Board hailed the work of the U.S. District Court judge in California that quickly disposed of the headline-generating case over the amount of ice Starbucks puts in its iced coffees. Wonderful. As the Board notes, the case “comes dangerously close to warranting Rule 11 sanctions.”
What is disappointing, however, is that the Law Journal’s Editorial Board seems to think this single case, which even they admit is an outlier, is evidence that our system is working, that legal reform is not necessary, and that “courts can flag frivolous suits all on their own.”
Courts should certainly be applauded when they are able to efficiently work through their dockets, separating the wheat from the chaff, and tossing meritless claims. But even quick legal work is not cost free. Starbucks undoubtedly had to spend money fighting this case. Money which could have been spent hiring more baristas, opening additional stores, or developing new products. The court still had to spend time and taxpayer dollars dealing with a lawsuit that would have benefited no consumers, and only enriched the attorneys who brought it.
Rather than seeing meritless cases quickly dismissed, we more often see them drag on, and drag down our economy. What is happening in the Subway “Footlong” lawsuit, which was first filed in New Jersey under our state’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), is more representative of the treatment lawsuits that don’t pass the “laugh test” receive. Rather than being dismissed, the suit was allowed to proceed. So, Subway settled the claims against it, agreeing to pay the named plaintiffs $500 apiece and the attorneys $525,000. All the rest of us get is the death of the $5 Footlong deal and assurances that Subway will improve its quality control program. They already apportion the dough by weight, and the standardization of toppings ensures all customers get the same amount of food, so basically we all get to pay more to ensure Subway keeps doing what it already does.
Wouldn’t it be great if instead of forcing our courts to waste time dealing with cases like the Starbucks iced coffee suit and the Subway sandwich suit, such lawsuits weren’t brought in the first place? Suits like these are filed because the skewed incentives of class actions encourages them, and because courts so infrequently impose sanctions, that there is little downside.
Removing the statutory incentives to sue when no one has been harmed, and only the attorney bringing the case stands to gain, is the type of legal reform we desperately need.
It is time to have a serious discussion about our legal system. Like any complex system it is not perfect and everyone, no matter what their current viewpoint, should be open to talking about ideas for improving it.