Fifth Circuit Affirms Striking Class Allegations From The Face Of A Complaint

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Jennifer A. Riley, and Michael DeMarino

Duane Morris Takeaways – In Elson v. Black, No. 21-20349, 2023 WL 111317, at *1 (5th Cir. Jan. 5, 2023), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision to strike the class allegations in a nationwide class action alleging false and deceptive marketing practices.  The decision in Elson is an important one for companies because it serves as reminder that, although sometimes discouraged, motions to strike class allegations are still a key weapon for defeating a class action lawsuit and cutting off class-wide discovery.

Background Of The Case

Plaintiffs were a group of women who alleged that Defendants falsely advertised the benefits and effectiveness of Defendants’ beauty product.  In their complaint, Plaintiffs asserted claims under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2301 and multiple state statutes on behalf of a nationwide class and seven sub-classes representing the seven states in which Plaintiffs resided. Id. at *1.

Defendants moved to strike Plaintiffs’ class allegations and, after a hearing and some limited discovery, the District Court agreed with that position and struck the class allegations.  The District Court concluded that “[b]ecause the basis for the claims are misrepresentations, reliance on them will be a key factor with every potential plaintiff” and it was “not convinced that commonality is present as each potential plaintiff would have to show that their reliance was justified.”  Id. at *2.  The District Court also dismissed Plaintiffs’ individual claims for failure to state a claim.  Plaintiffs then appealed the order striking the class allegations, as well as the dismissal of their individual claims. Id.

The Fifth Circuit’s Ruling

On appeal, Plaintiffs mainly argued that the District Court failed to conduct the “rigorous analysis” required by Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and, in turn, overlooked the fact that reliance is not an element of many of the state statutes at issue. Id. The Fifth Circuit disagreed.  Applying an abuse of discretion standard, the Fifth Circuit concluded that Plaintiffs were unable to establish Rule 23(b)(3)’s requirement that “questions common to the class predominate over other questions.” Id.

Specifically, the Fifth Circuit noted that the burden was on Plaintiff to show that the differences in state law would not predominate over issues individual to each plaintiff in the litigation.  The Fifth Circuit therefore concluded that, by failing to present a sufficient choice of law analysis, Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of showing that common questions of law predominate and, in fact “variations in state law . . .  swamp any common issues and defeat predominance.” Id. at *3.

Just as important, the Fifth Circuit also held that Plaintiffs could not establish predominance because “Plaintiffs’ allegations introduce numerous factual differences that in no way comprise a coherent class.” Id.  In reaching that holding, the Fifth Circuit observed that the named plaintiffs did not complain “about the same alleged misrepresentations.” Id.  As a result, the Fifth Circuit opined that “discerning the truth or falsity of each representation would require a group-by-group analysis, complicated by the fact that the members of each group are from different states.” Id.

In response, Plaintiffs proposed seven state-specific sub-classes under Rule 23(c)(5).  However, the Fifth Circuit rejected that solution. ‘‘Sub-class,” the Fifth Circuit opined, “is not a magic word that remedies defects of predominance. The burden is on Plaintiffs to demonstrate to the district court how certain proposed sub-classes would alleviate existing obstacles to certification.”  Id. at *4. Ultimately, the Fifth Circuit held that Plaintiffs failed make that showing.

At the end of the day, the Fifth Circuit ruled that “[d]espite the brevity of the . . . order, we see no reason to reverse the district court formalistically for its further elaboration on what is clear from the face of the pleadings” and concluded that it did not abuse its discretion in striking the class allegations.

Implications For Companies Facing Class Actions

The ruling in Elson underscores the importance that a motion to strike can play in defeating class action claims as a first strike response and is a reminder that sub-classes are not a cure-all for predominance problems.  Although some jurisdictions have viewed such motions with a bit of skepticism, corporate defendants are well-advised to consider whether to bring such a motion at the outset of the case, as an order striking class allegations is functionally equivalent to an order denying class certification and thus could put an early end to what otherwise might be tedious and lengthy litigation.

Presenting A Duane Morris Exclusive Event: Top Trends In Class Action Litigation In-Person Panel And Webinar Discussion For Book Launch

Duane Morris Takeaways: You are invited to join Duane Morris Partners Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Jennifer Riley for a panel discussion marking the release of the Duane Morris Class Action Review. The DMCAR has received rave reviews (here and here) since its publication, and this event will provide expert insights into the top 10 class action trends of 2022, and perspectives on what corporate counsel and business leaders can expect in 2023. Prominent plaintiffs’ class action lawyer of Joe Sellers of Cohen Milstein will join the discussion to provide thoughts on what the plaintiffs’ bar is expected to focus on in 2023.

Please register here to attend in person or by zoom to reserve your seat!

In Person Event: Thursday, January 26, 2023
Registration: 1:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern
Book Launch and Discussion: 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Reception: 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern

Convene CityView
Duane Morris Plaza | 13th Floor
30 South 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103


Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Partner and Chair Workplace Class Action Group, Duane Morris LLP

Jennifer A. Riley, Partner and Vice-Chair Workplace Class Action Group, Duane Morris LLP

Joseph M. Sellers, Partner Cohen Milstein

Opening Remarks: 

Matthew A. Taylor, Chairman and CEO, Duane Morris LLP

Thomas G. Servodidio, Vice-Chairman, Duane Morris LLP

Duane Morris Class Action Review – 2023 Overview Video

Duane Morris Takeaways:  As our Duane Morris Class Action Review outlines, 2022 was a year of history making developments in the class action world. The Review is the preeminent resource for discussing the trends of 2022 and what to expect in 2023. Below is a video exploring the origin of the Review, presented by Jerry Maatman and Jennifer Riley, partners at Duane Morris, Co-Chairs of the Firm’s class action defense group, and the Review editors.  Check it out below:

Check Out The Duane Morris Class Action Review Website

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Jennifer A. Riley

Duane Morris Takeaways – The all-new Duane Morris Class Action Review can be viewed on its very own website – click here to see everything offered! View the Top 10 Trends and settlements in all areas of class action litigation for 2022 here. You can also preorder the Review eBook here and review the Duane Morris Class Action Review Overview Video, featuring partners Jerry Maatman and Jennifer Riley here.

The Class Action Review

This one-of-a-kind publication provides a comprehensive analysis of class action litigation trends and significant rulings and settlements from 2022 that will enable corporate counsel and business leaders to make informed decisions when dealing with complex litigation risks in 2023.

The Review is 450 pages long, including 23 substantive chapters (with extensive charts and graphics), and 4 appendices, and is available in hard copy and e-Book formats.

It covers every conceivable area of substantive law involving class actions brought against corporate defendants. Our goal is to provide readers with the definitive desk reference for dealing with the complexities of class action litigation

We hope our loyal blog readers enjoy the Review! Stay tuned for more video and blog content highlighting each Top 10 Trend, and for an invitation to a Duane Morris exclusive in-Person and webinar Book Launch event!

It Is Here — The Duane Morris Class Action Review – 2023

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Jennifer A. Riley

Duane Morris Takeaways: As we kick off 2023, this is the inaugural year of the new Duane Morris Class Action Review.  It is a one-of-its-kind publication analyzing class action trends, decisions, and settlements in all areas impacting Corporate America, including the substantive areas of antitrust, appeals, the Class Action Fairness Act, civil rights, consumer fraud, data breach, EEOC-Initiated and government enforcement litigation, employment discrimination, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, wage & hour class and collective actions, labor, privacy, procedural issues, product liability and mass torts, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, securities fraud, state court class actions, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The Review also highlights key rulings on attorneys’ fee awards in class actions, motions granting and denying sanctions in class actions, and the top class action settlement in each area. Finally, the Review provides insight as to what companies and corporate counsel can expect to see in 2023.

Click here to access our customized website featuring all the Review highlights, including the ten major trends across all types of class actions over the past year.

Order your copy of the eBook here, and download the Review overview on the key Rule 23 decisions and top class action settlements here.

The 2023 Review analyzes rulings from all state and federal courts in 23 areas of law. It is designed as a reader-friendly research tool that is easily accessible in hard copy and e-Book formats. Class action rulings from throughout the year are analyzed and organized into 23 chapters and 4 appendices for ease of analysis and reference.

Executive Summary Of Key Class Action Trends Over The Past Year

Class action litigation presents one of the most significant risks to corporate defendants today. Procedural mechanisms like the one set forth in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have the potential to expand a claim asserted on behalf of a single person into a claim asserted on behalf of a behemoth that includes every employee, customer, or user of a particular company, product, or service, over an extended period. With the potential for exponential enlargement of the size and scope of an action comes the potential for exponential expansion of peril for a corporate defendant. Class action lawsuits can create legal nightmares for companies and their management teams. The exposure created by such aggregation of claims can pose a challenge to a corporation’s balance sheet, market share, and reputation. Sometimes such litigation can push a defendant into bankruptcy.

With the growth of class action litigation over the past decade, counsel for defendants and plaintiffs alike have become more sophisticated, the statutory authority and case law precedents have continued to evolve, and parties on both sides have expanded their arsenal of tools to pursue and to defend these cases. As a result, class action litigation entails ever-changing guideposts, new playbooks, and innovation. The plaintiffs’ class action bar used Rule 23 to its fullest in 2022 in prosecuting class actions against Corporate America. The result was a year like no other in the class action space.

We identified 10 key trends that characterize the past year. These trends involve:  (i) massive class action settlements; (ii) U.S. Supreme Court decisional law on class action issues; (iii) set-backs and statutory impediments to the arbitration defense; (iv) plaintiff-friendly class certification conversion rates; (v) a simmering in government enforcement actions paired with indications of more aggressive federal and state agency litigation against corporations in the coming year; (vi) expansive growth in privacy class action litigation; (vii) an expansion of data protection issues that continue to plague corporate defendants; (viii) continued confusion over the problem of uninjured class members to class certification; (ix) aggressive assertion of defenses based on personal jurisdiction and venue; and (x) transformative rulings on the PAGA front including the first major setback for the plaintiffs’ bar.

Trend #1 – Class Action Settlements In 2022 Redistributed Wealth At An Unprecedented Level

Aside from the Big Tobacco settlements nearly two decades ago, 2022 marked the most extensive set of billion-dollar class action settlements in the history of the American court system. Many of these settlements arose from opioid litigation against manufactures, distributors, and retailers in the pharmaceutical industry. On an aggregate basis, class actions and government enforcement lawsuits garnered more than $71 billion in settlements, with 15 class action cases settling for more than $1 billion. These settlements have redistributed wealth at an unprecedented rate. Suffice to say, 2022 was unlike any other year on the class action settlement front. As success often begets copy-cats, corporations can expect the plaintiffs’ class action bar will be equally if not more aggressive in their case filings and settlement positions in 2023.

Trend # 2 – The U.S. Supreme Court’s Decisions In 2022 Continued To Define The Class Action Landscape

As the ultimate referee of law, the U.S. Supreme Court has continued to define and shift the playing field for class action litigation. The Supreme Court’s rulings in 2022 were no exception. Consistent with its approach over the past several years, the Supreme Court issued three key rulings that impact the plaintiffs’ bar’s ability to bring and maintain class actions. The rulings include Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, et al., 142 S.Ct. 1783 (2022), Morgan, et al. v. Sundance, Inc., 142 S.Ct. 1708 (2022), and Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana, et al., 142 S.Ct. 1906 (2022). The most effective tool for combating class actions may be the arbitration defense. Contrary to the tendency of its rulings in recent years to expand the arbitration defense, and thus make it more difficult for the plaintiffs’ bar to pursue claims on a class-wide basis, this past year the U.S. Supreme Court pulled back on the arbitration defense by narrowing its coverage.

Trend # 3 – The Arbitration Defense Suffered Setbacks In 2022

Of all defenses, a defendant’s ability to enforce an arbitration agreement containing a class or collective action waiver may have had the single greatest impact in terms of shifting the pendulum of class action litigation. With its decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, et al., 138 S. Ct. 1612 (2018), the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the last hurdle to widespread adoption of such agreements. In response, more companies of all types and sizes updated their onboarding materials, terms of use, and other types of agreements to require that any disputes be resolved in arbitration on an individual basis. To date, companies have enjoyed a high rate of success enforcing those agreements and using them to thwart class actions out of the gate. Given the impact of the arbitration defense, in 2023, companies may face additional hurdles, on the judicial or the legislative front, as the plaintiffs’ bar continues to look for workarounds.

Trend # 4 – The Likelihood Of Class Certification In 2022 Was As Strong As Ever

In 2022, the plaintiffs’ class action bar succeeded in certifying class actions at a high rate. Across all major types of class actions, courts issued rulings on over 360 motions to grant or to deny class certification in 2022. Of these, plaintiffs succeed in obtaining or maintaining certification in 268 rulings, with an overall success rate of nearly 75%. The plaintiffs’ class action bar obtained the highest rates of success in securities fraud, ERISA, WARN, and FLSA actions. In cases alleging securities fraud, plaintiffs succeeded in obtaining orders certifying classes in 23 of the 24 rulings issues during 2022, a success rate of 96%. In ERISA litigation, plaintiffs succeeded in obtaining orders certifying class in 18 of 23 rulings issued during 2022, a success rate of 78%. In cases alleging WARN violations, plaintiffs managed to certify classes in 100% of the suits that resulted in decisions this year.

Trend # 5 – Government Enforcement In 2022 Took A Back Seat

Over the past year, the Biden Administration continued to roll out changes on several fronts as it aimed to expand the rights, remedies, and procedural avenues available to workers. During 2022, such efforts fueled litigation. With its decision in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, 142 S.Ct. 2587 (2022), the U.S. Supreme Court imposed another hurdle to agency rule-making. Meanwhile, government enforcement litigation activity took a back seat. Over the past two years, the U.S. Department of Labor, in particular, has continued to roll out worker-friendly rules that could have a cascading impact on workplace class actions, including rules designed to wipe out the pro-business policies of the Trump Administration. Such efforts continued on multiple fronts in 2022, including with respect to rules regarding businesses’ utilization of independent contractors and their use of the tip credit. Whereas companies continued to see pro-business rules promulgated by the Trump Administration withdrawn and overwritten in 2022, courts continued to impose hurdles to agency rulemaking, the success of which will continue to be seen in 2023. Enforcement activity remained steady as political appointments remain pending.  Employers are apt to see increased activity in 2023 as the EEOC in particular gains its full component of Biden appointees and can exercise its majority power to advance its agenda.

Trend # 6 – Privacy Class Actions Became An Intense Focus Of The Plaintiffs’ Class Action Bar

Privacy litigation – in a multitude of forms and theories – manifested itself as the hottest area of growth in terms of activity by the plaintiffs’ class action bar. The Illinois Supreme Court likely will rule on key BIPA matters in the early part of 2023 and that the statute will continue to drive class action litigation. Its technical requirements, combined with stiff statutory penalties and fee-shifting, provide a recipe for attention from the plaintiff’s class action bar, and companies’ continued development and use of innovative technologies are apt to provide a veritable barrel of opportunity. The plaintiffs’ bar also grounded privacy claims in the electronic interception provisions of various state laws. While Congress has refrained from addressing data privacy through federal legislation, many states have enacted their own laws, and 2022 saw significant state legislative activity regarding data privacy with five states preparing for new privacy laws to take effect in 2023, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia.

Trend # 7 – Data Protection Issues Continued To Plague Corporate Defendants

Companies that fall victim to data breach attacks have to contend not only with the significant costs of responding to the data breach and potential of government fines, but also the high costs of dealing with high-stakes class action lawsuits. Corporations also suffered setbacks as courts disagreed over the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in TransUnion v. Ramirez, et al., 141 S. Ct. 2190 (2021), to data breach cases. In TransUnion, the Supreme Court ruled that certain putative class members, who did not have their credit reports shared with third parties, did not suffer concrete harm and, therefore, lacked standing to sue. The Supreme Court decision in Ramirez has not resulted in a bright line rule on standing in data breach cases, as courts continue to apply different interpretations of Ramirez when analyzing the particular circumstances surrounding the breach in assessing the question of standing.

Trend # 8 – Courts Continued To Grapple With Problems Of Standing And Uninjured Class Members

During 2022, courts continued to grapple with the rules that govern the certification of classes that contain uninjured class members. Various cases climbed to the federal circuit level, with varying results, and the U.S. Supreme Court once again declined to take up the issue, making uninjured class members a continued topic of disagreement and debate for 2023. The issue remains one that divides lower federal courts, thereby fueling uncertainty on an important class action issue. If a defendant’s showing that one or more members of the defined class did not suffer a concrete harm can defeat class certification, such a defense is a potent tool for the defense.  As a result, while 2022 saw the further development of the defense, corporate defendants are likely to see continued litigation over this issue during the upcoming year.

Trend # 9 – Corporate Defendants Aggressively Asserted Defenses Based On Personal Jurisdiction

In 2022, corporate defendants aggressively asserted defenses based on personal jurisdiction to fracture class and collective actions. In Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017), the U.S. Supreme Court held that each plaintiff in a mass action must demonstrate a basis for the court to exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant for purposes of adjudicating his or her claims, even if those claims are similar to the claims of other plaintiffs. Federal circuits, however, have disagreed on the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the collective action and class action context. It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will resolve this issue in 2023, and corporate defendants can expect that personal jurisdiction will remain a powerful defense for facing class and collective actions outside of their home states.

Trend # 10 – PAGA Actions Suffered Their First Setback, Work-Arounds Continued To Percolate

In 2022, actions under the California Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), Cal. Lab. Code, §§ 2698, et seq., saw their first setback as a workaround to workplace arbitration programs that require individual proceedings. According to data maintained by the California Department of Industrial Relations, the number of PAGA notices filed with the LWDA has increased exponentially over the past two decades. As the adoption of arbitration programs gained popularity as a mechanism to contract around class and collective actions, the plaintiffs’ class action bar identified work-around strategies. The PAGA workaround suffered its first significant set-back in 2022 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly anticipated decision in Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana, et al., 142 S.Ct. 1906 (2022), which addressed the arbitrability of PAGA claims.

What Should Companies Expect In 2023?

Class action litigation is a staple of the American judicial system. The volume of class action filings has increased each year for the past decade, and 2023 is likely to follow that trend. A company’s programs designed to ensure compliance with existing laws and strategies to mitigate class action litigation risks are corporate imperatives. The plaintiffs’ bar is nothing if not innovative and resourceful. Given the massive class action settlement figures in 2022, coupled with the ever-developing case law under Rule 23, corporations can expect more lawsuits, expansive class theories, and an aggressive plaintiffs’ bar in 2023. These conditions necessitate planning, preparation, and decision-making to position corporations to withstand and defend class action exposures. These crucial issues are inevitably posed by any class action litigation. By their very nature, class actions involve decisions on strategy at every turn. The positions of the parties are constantly changing and corporate defendants must always be looking ahead and anticipating issues during every phase of the litigation.

We hope the Duane Morris Class Action Review provides practical insights into complex potential strategies relevant to all aspects of class action litigation and other claims that can cost billions of dollars and require changed business practices in order to resolve

Anti-Aging Claims Can Be a Legal Risk as Highlighted by L’Oreal Case

Duane Morris Takeaways: In Lopez, et al. v. L’Oréal USA Inc., Case No. No. 21 Civ. 7300 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2022), Judge Andrew Carter of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied L’Oréal’s motion to dismiss putative class claims that it misled consumers regarding nature of the collagen ingredients and their effects in its products. Companies should heed this ruling as a cautionary tale for the potential for liability when making anti-aging claims that can be misconstrued by consumers as overbroad.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman over 30 must be in want of an eye cream. Or a serum. Or anything, really, so long as it recreates the appearance of youth, vitality or an actual night’s sleep.

The global market for anti-aging cosmetics is expected to reach $93.1 billion by 2027. But as illustrated by a recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Lopez v. L’Oréal USA Inc., promises that a product can turn back time by “restoring skin” or “promot[ing] cell regeneration” can prove costly for brands looking to capitalize on this growing market.

Brands should be mindful of litigation and regulatory risk when making certain anti-aging claims.

To read the full text of this article by Duane Morris associate Kelly Bonner, which was originally published in Law360, please visit the firm website.

The 2022-2023 Judicial Hellholes Report From The American Tort Reform Association On The Worst Jurisdictions For Defendants

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Jennifer A. Riley

Duane Morris Takeaways: Every year the American Tort Reform Association (“ATRA”) publishes its “Judicial Hellholes Report,” focusing on litigation issues and identifying jurisdictions likely to have unfair and biased administration of justice. The ATRA recently published its 2022-2023 Report and Georgia is identified as the most disadvantageous jurisdiction in the country for corporate defendants, the highest ever ranking for the state. Readers can find a copy here and the executive summary here.

The Judicial Hellholes Report is an important read for corporate counsel facing class action litigation because it identifies jurisdictions that are generally unfavorable to defendants. The Report defines a “judicial hellhole” as a jurisdiction where judges in civil cases systematically apply laws and procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally to the disadvantage of defendants. The Report is a “must read” for anyone litigating class actions and making decisions about venue strategy.

The 2022 Hellholes

In its recently released annual report, the ATRA identified 8 jurisdictions on its 2022 hellholes list – which, in order, include: (1) Georgia (with massive verdicts bogging down business and third-party litigation financing is playing an increasing role in litigation); (2) Pennsylvania (especially in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania); (3) California (with Proposition 65 lawsuits thriving and a huge overall volume of lawsuits, in addition to Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) litigation and Americans with Disability Act (ADA) accessibility lawsuits; (4) New York (with “no-injury” consumer class action lawsuits and the highest volume of lawsuits under the ADA); (5) Illinois (particularly in Cook County as another “no-injury required” hotspot and lawsuits stemming from the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act); (6) South Carolina (particularly in asbestos litigation); (7) Louisiana (including deceptive lawsuit advertising practices, coastal litigation, and COVID-19 litigation); and (8) St. Louis, Missouri (with focuses on asbestos litigation and “phantom damages”).

According to the ATRA’s analysis, these venues are less than optimal for corporate defendants and often attract plaintiffs’ attorneys, particularly for the filing of class action lawsuits. Therefore, corporate counsel should take particular care if they encounter a class action lawsuit filed in one of these venues.

The 2023 “Watch List”

The ATRA also included 3 jurisdictions on its “watch list,” including Florida (the ATRA noted that Florida has been making strides to mitigate lawsuit abuse, but issues of inflated medical damages and deceptive trial lawyer advertising still remain); New Jersey (with a powerful trial bar), and Texas (particularly the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District, which the ATRA opined has developed a reputation for being pro-plaintiff and pro-liability expansion).

In addition, the ATRA recognized that several jurisdictions made significant positive improvements this year, highlighting decisions issued by Florida Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and the Arizona Supreme Court. The ATRA also noted that nine state legislatures enacted positive civil justice reforms this year.

 Implications For Employers

The Judicial Hellholes Report often mirrors the experience of companies in high-stakes class actions, as Georgia, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, and South Carolina are among the leading states where plaintiffs’ lawyers file class actions. These jurisdictions are linked by class certification standards that are more plaintiff-friendly and more generous damages recovery possibilities under state laws.

California Attorney General Utilizes Novel Nuisance Theory From Opioid Litigation Against Manufacturers Of “Forever” Chemicals In New Government Enforcement Action

By Sharon L. Caffrey and Gerald L. Maatman, Jr.

Duane Morris SynopsisThe Attorney General of California has filed a first of its kind lawsuit against several named manufacturers and “John Doe” manufacturers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (commonly known as PFAS and PFOA) based upon the same public nuisance theory used by several attorneys general and local governments against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies in nationwide class action litigation.  Claiming that defendants knew PFAS, PFOA, and related chemicals were harmful but put the chemicals into the market and into the environment with insufficient testing, and claiming the PFAS can be found in the bloodstreams of virtually every Californian, the Attorney General is seeking both equitable and financial relief, including an injunction against further sales of products containing PFAS and PFOA, remediation, and monetary damages.  The lawsuit is a blockbuster of ambitious claims, and given the ubiquitous nature of PFAS and PFOA, this case is one of potential concern for any manufacturer whose products or processes may result in the ingestion or release of PFAS and PFOA.

Case Background

On behalf of the People of California, the California Attorney General is seeking remediation and damages of soil and groundwater allegedly contaminated with PFAS and PFOA.  PFAS and PFOA are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals” because of their bio-durability in soil, groundwater, and in the human body.  In a nod to the playbook of successful class actions against another industry, the Attorney General’s action relies on the same public nuisance theory used in the opioid litigation, as well as traditional product liability failure to warn theories of liability.

PFAS and PFOA are found in a “wide array of products and industrial processes,” including products as common as food packaging, carpet and fabric coatings and cleaning products.  The claim centers on the release of PFAs and PFOA into drinking water sources, including bays, lakes and streams.  Claiming exposure to PFAS and PFOA contributes to certain cancers, adverse pregnancy outcomes, delayed puberty, and infertility, among other harms, the Attorney General’s suit notes that PFAS and PFOA are ingested orally and persist in the body because they are not readily broken down.

In support of his claims, the Attorney General relies primarily on toxicology studies and some in vitro studies, as well as very limited human epidemiologic evidence that PFAS and PFOA are associated with certain adverse health outcomes.  The complaint also notes that the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) listed PFOA and PFOS as chemicals known to cause reproductive toxicity under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly known as “Prop 65.”  The Complaint further asserts that the EPA intends to issue enforceable National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs) for drinking water contaminants, to include PFAS and PFOA by the end of 2022.  Because PFAS and PFOA are not readily broken down in soil, water or the human body, they are found in over 97 percent of all Californians’ bloodstreams.  Finally, the Attorney General’s lawsuit claims that defendants put products containing PFAS and PFOA in the stream of commerce without adequate testing or warnings of the harms they could cause, or while being aware of the potential harms and not warning the public.

Implications For Manufacturers

At present California is the only state that has filed a claim against manufacturers who allegedly put PFAS and PFOA into groundwater and soil.  California’s unique Prop 65 is part of the basis for the Attorney General’s claim.  However, if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issues enforceable limits on PFAS and PFOA in drinking water, similar suits will inevitably arise in other jurisdictions.  Companies who believe they may be at risk for similar claims should consult with counsel about the best way to mitigate any exposure for such litigation.

California Callout: New 2023 Privacy Regulations Coming Soon

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Jennifer Riley, Brandon Spurlock, and Alex W. Karasik

Duane Morris Synopsis:  On the heels of California’s enactment of the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) in 2020, and after two legislative bills that proposed to continue the employer exemption failed, employers will now need to comply with all requirements of the CPRA (“California Privacy Rights Act”) effective January 1, 2023. California-based employers now face these strict privacy requirements in the existing minefield of nuanced employment laws.

Legislative Background

The CCPA is often considered the most stringent data privacy law in the United States.  This landmark law established privacy rights for California consumers, including:  (1) the right to know about the personal information a business collects about them and how it is used and shared; (2) the right to delete personal information collected from them (with some exceptions); (3) the right to opt-out of the sale of their personal information; and (4) the right to non-discrimination for exercising their CCPA rights. (See

Currently, data collected from workers is exempt from all but two provisions of the CCPA: (i) employers must provide an initial disclosure to all employees at or prior to the point of collection, and (ii) employees still have a right to statutory damages in the event of a data breach. “Employees” is a term that casts a wide net. It includes job applicants, business owners, officers, directors, medical staff members, independent contractors, emergency contacts and beneficiaries.

Two separate California state bills sought to continue the employer exemption: (1) AB 2891, for an additional three years; and (2) AB 2871, for an indefinite time period.  Neither bill was passed by the Legislature in its final 2022 session. Accordingly, with the exemption expiring, employers must now fully comply with the former CCPA’s requirements, as the new CPRA comes into effect.

Employer Obligations

First, employees are now afforded various rights, including:  (1) a right to request access to their personal information and information about how automated decision technologies work; (2) a right to correct inaccurate personnel information; (3) the right to request that an employer delete their personal information, including the obligation that employers must also notify third parties to whom they have sold or shared such personal information of the consumer’s request to delete; (4) the right to limit the use and disclosure of sensitive personal information to that which is necessary to perform the services or provide the goods reasonably expected by an average consumer who requests such goods and services.

Notice Obligations

Employers should be mindful of particular notice obligations under the CPRA. These include the: (1) requirement of notice at collection; and (2) requirement of a privacy policy.  Regarding the notice at collection, employers are required to give employees, applicants, and contractors notice at the time they collect the information if they plan to collect, use, or disclose that personal information, while also disclosing the categories of personal information.  The privacy policy is comprehensive and must disclose categories of personal information collected over the 12 months before the policy’s effective date. The policy also must disclose sources from which personal information is collected, the business purpose for the collection, categories of third-parties to whom personal information is disclosed; and categories of personal information sold or shared.  And employers are obligated to post the privacy policy online where it is accessible to employees, applicants, and contractors.

Data Governance

To ensure compliance with the CPRA, it is crucial that employers understand where personal information is located within their businesses. It behooves them to undertake a data inventory or data mapping exercise to assess how and where relevant information is stored and/or transferred.  Employers should also take stock of their records retention policies to ensure compliance, and also develop an internal framework to handle requests from employees for access and/or deletion.

Implications For Employers

Employers who have operations in California should immediately take heed of these new obligations. It is inevitable that the Plaintiff’s bar will be scrutinizing these practices come January 2023.  Accordingly, employers should determine whether they are covered by the CPRA, and prepare privacy policies that are fully compliant.

When Consistency Creates Commonality

By Jonathan A. Segal

Duane Morris Takeaways: Guest blogger Jonathan A. Segal – one of the deans of the employment bar in the United States – offers his ruminations on the challenges that employers face in class action litigation.

I recently attended an employment law webinar.  It got me thinking about employers and the challenge of dealing with workplace class action litigation.

At one point, when discussing how to minimize exposure to discrimination claims, a seminar speaker opined there are three words to keep in mind at all times:  “Consistency, Consistency and Consistency.”

When it comes to performance management, if employers treat employees consistently when the circumstances are the same or substantially similar, they can mitigate exposure to individual discrimination claims.  The consistency ensures that helpful comparators exist, which employers can use to defend an alleged employment discrimination claim. Of course, and as important, the consistency here is critical to a strong workplace culture.

However, consistency is not always desirable.  Huh? Stay with me.

Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23 provides:

  • Prerequisites. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all members only if:
    • the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
    • there are questions of law or fact common to the class;
    • the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
    • the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

As is evident, consistency may help satisfy the second requirement relative to common issues of fact or law. The U.S. Supreme Court decided that a decade ago in its seminal ruling in Wal-Mart Stores, In. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338 (2011).

Arguably – and we certainly see it in the courtroom in the manner of arguments by Plaintiff’s counsel – per se rules that are created to minimize any exposure to discrimination claims may increase the employer’s exposure to class claims because of the commonality they create.   But one example suffices — automatic termination of employees after they have been on leave for a specified period of time.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  Let me say this with a bit more civility. While consistency often is desirable, there are times when consistency hurts rather than helps.  The key is to know when consistency is desirable and when it is, well, anything but optimal.

Over the next year, I will blog about examples of employment practices/rules that create commonality that have been the basis for class action attacks.  In these blogs, I also will talk about alternative approaches that help mitigate exposure to both individual and class action claims.

Stay tuned!

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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