Posts from February 2016.
Time 3 Minute Read

This past week, the following consumer protection actions in federal courts and agencies made headlines:

The Ninth Circuit

The Ninth Circuit was busy addressing consumer protection issues this week. Two proposed class actions brought against Apple, Inc. were decided in favor of the company. In the first action, Hodges v. Apple, Inc., a three-judge panel affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a putative class action alleging deceptive practices in the advertising and sale of Apple’s MacBook Pro with retina display computers. The plaintiff was dissatisfied with the quality of his retina display screen, but the Ninth Circuit agreed with the lower court that Apple had not misled consumers about the retina displays in its advertising. In the second case, a three-judge panel again upheld a dismissal of a proposed class action against Apple that accused the company of misrepresenting the speech capabilities of its iPhone 4S product. The majority of the appeals court agreed with the lower court’s assessment that the allegations about the capabilities of the Siri speech recognition software were too broad, and did not meet the pleading requirements under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Finally, a three-judge panel revived a class action that had previously been dismissed by a district judge against Hain Celestial’s Alba Botanica skincare line. Plaintiffs claimed that marketing the products as “natural” misled consumers into buying products that contained synthetic substances at a higher cost.

Time 2 Minute Read

The National Advertising Division (“NAD”) was busy this past week. The organization recommended that several companies modify or discontinue claims made for the following consumer products:

Disinfecting Wipes

After a challenge by The Clorox Company, NAD recommended that Reckitt Benckiser, Inc., discontinue certain claims made in both print and television ads for Lysol Disinfecting Wipes and Spray products. The claims included statements declaring that Lysol “helps fight the flu before it starts” and kills “45% more types of germs” as compared to other wipes. NAD concluded that these claims were not supported by evidence in the record, and Reckitt Benckiser announced that it plans to appeal NAD’s findings to the National Advertising Review Board. Clorox has been active recently in challenging competitors’ claims–just a few weeks ago, in a challenge brought by Clorox, the NAD recommended that the maker of OxiClean White Revive non-chlorine bleach modify its television ad campaigns.

Time 2 Minute Read

This week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2010 Colorado law (Colo. Rev. Stat. §39-21-112.3.5) requiring out-of-state retailers that do not collect sales tax from Colorado consumers to report transactions to state taxing authorities, in an effort to boost state “use tax” compliance. The Colorado statute requires out-of-state retailers to (1) remind consumers with each transaction that their purchase may be subject to state “use tax” laws; (2) deliver an “annual purchase summary” to any customers with transactions totaling greater than $500 in any year; and (3) annually report the transaction information to state taxing authorities. There is an exception for "retailers who made less than $100,000 in total gross sales in Colorado in the previous calendar year, and who reasonably expect gross sales in the current calendar year to be less than $100,000."

Time 2 Minute Read

The recent change in U.S. policy towards Cuba and a “thawing of relations” between the two countries has generated increased interest among U.S. companies in the potential for business in Cuba. Despite this increased interest, companies should proceed cautiously, as recent international investments in Cuba, often in the form of joint ventures, have yielded mixed results and experiences. British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company Unilever plc, for example, formed a 50/50 international economic association with state-owned enterprise Suchel in 1994, but subsequently left the Cuban market in 2012 due to government intrusion and labor issues.

Time 5 Minute Read

This past week, the following regulatory and consumer protection actions made headlines:

Outlet Retailers Sued over Allegedly Deceptive Pricing Practices

Class action lawsuits against several retailers, including Burberry and Dooney & Bourke, allege that outlet discount prices tags that compare the outlet price with purported retail prices deceive consumers into believing they are getting a bargain when, in fact, they are not. Reference pricing rules (e.g., the FTC’s Guides on Deceptive Pricing) prohibit sellers from offering fictitious bargains. In these cases, the plaintiffs allege that the retailers’ practice of offering for sale made-for-outlet goods that never were sold at the referenced price is deceptive.

Time 3 Minute Read

As we previously reported in Looking Back: Retail Antitrust Enforcement in 2015, last year was a booming year for consumer products mergers (and the antitrust review of those mergers). With a robust market and incentives strongly in favor of further acquisitions, we expect the trend to continue in 2016.

Time 3 Minute Read

2015 was a record year for mergers and acquisitions activity, with over $4.7 trillion in transactions announced. This record volume has kept U.S. antitrust authorities fully engaged.

Federal antitrust agencies reviewing more M&A transactions. Increased M&A activity in 2015 kept U.S. antitrust agencies busy. The number of transactions reported under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act increased by 25 percent from FY2013 to FY2014, and the upward trend appeared to continue, although official statistics are not yet available.

The antitrust cops are on the beat. Implementing their “litigation readiness” focus, the U.S. antitrust agencies brought many merger challenges in 2015. Combined, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) sued to block over 25 mergers, including Staples/Office Depot, Sysco/US Foods, Electrolux/General Electric appliances business, Dollar Tree/Family Dollar and more.

Time 2 Minute Read

In 2015, there was a record number of activist shareholder campaigns in the United States. Although activist hedge funds targeted companies across numerous industries, several retail companies found themselves in activists’ crosshairs. These included companies such as fast-food restaurant chains, convenience store operators, auto parts retailers and department store retailers.

Time 1 Minute Read

The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently announced it settled charges against the Monsanto Company (“Monsanto”) regarding its accounting practices surrounding the sale of its popular Roundup herbicide. Monsanto “agreed to pay an $80 million penalty and retain an independent compliance consultant to settle charges that it violated accounting rules and misstated company earnings.” Two Monsanto accounting executives and one sales executive also agreed to pay penalties to settle charges that were brought against them. The case underscores for both manufacturers and retailers that financial reporting and disclosures cases continue to be a high priority for the SEC.

Time 4 Minute Read

This past week, the following regulatory and consumer actions made headlines:

National Advertising Division Weighs in on “Scary Bleach” Claims

After a challenge by The Clorox Company, the National Advertising Division (“NAD”) recommended that Church & Dwight, the maker of OxiClean White Revive non-chlorine bleach, modify its television ad campaign suggesting that chlorine bleach could be “scary.” The commercials in question highlighted garment care labels directing consumers to “use only non-chlorine bleach, when needed,” thus implying that Chlorox’s product was damaging to the kinds of white garments depicted in the ads. The NAD found that Church & Dwight was required to provide a reasonable basis for its use of care labels in its ads, particularly advertising claims that denigrated Chlorox’s product. This decision followed on a 2014 NAD recommendation that Church & Dwight avoid conveying the unsupported message that chlorine bleach is damaging to white garments.

Time 3 Minute Read

As reported on the Hunton Employment and Labor Law Blog, the United States Supreme Court has denied a restaurant manager’s petition seeking review of whether parties may stipulate to the dismissal with prejudice of a lawsuit alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), or whether judicial or Department of Labor (“DOL”) approval is a prerequisite to such a dismissal, as the Second Circuit held in his case, Cheeks v. Freeport Pancake House, Inc. Having declined the petition for writ of certiorari, FLSA lawsuits will remain more difficult to resolve for employers in New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

Time 3 Minute Read

M&A in 2015: Shattering prior records. With the economy in a modest recovery and with cheap financing readily available, M&A activity was at an all-time high in 2015. Surpassing the prior record of $4.3 trillion in deals in 2007, 2015 saw M&A activity of $4.7 trillion worth of transactions, of which approximately half involved U.S. companies. In fact, U.S. deals alone exceeded $2 trillion for the first time ever.

Time 3 Minute Read

Each week, we will present a summary of key consumer protection developments affecting the retail industry. This past week, the following regulatory and consumer actions made headlines:

FTC Continues Focus on False Weight Loss Claims, Settles with Sale Slash for $43 million

After a nearly year-long litigation, California company Sale Slash LLC has agreed to pay $43 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the company deceptively sold “bogus” weight loss pills, including through unauthorized celebrity endorsements. As part of the settlement, Sale Slash may not represent that its products are endorsed by any specific individual, or claim that its products aid in weight loss or are safe for consumers unless the claims are supported by “competent and reliable scientific evidence.”

Time 2 Minute Read

Prospective buyers of property for retail development face a plethora of issues when negotiating a purchase from a potential seller. Aside from the obvious issues of purchase price, contingencies and financing, prospective Southern California buyers are also confronting issues related to the availability of parking. As developers try to maximize their leasable footprint, there is a growing trend to look to subterranean parking, according to James W. Abbott, Jr., a broker at Realty Advisory Group in Los Angeles, California, who specializes in retail and institutional sales in the hot Venice Beach area.

Time 3 Minute Read

This post has been updated. 

As reported on the Employment and Labor blog, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) announced on January 29, 2016, its proposed revision to the Employer Information Report (EEO-1) that would obligate businesses with 100 or more employees to annually turn over pay data by gender, race and ethnicity. Although employers will not have to divulge specific pay-rate information for individual employees, they would have to report pay information across 10 different job categories and by 12 pay bands.

Time 1 Minute Read

On January 20, 2016, the US Department of Labor (“DOL”) became the latest federal agency to advocate for an expansive concept of joint employment. The DOL’s Wage and Hour Administrator took the position that joint employment under the Fair Labor Standards Act “should be defined expansively” and “as broad as possible.” The new Administrator’s Interpretation, along with the National Labor Relations Board’s recent joint employer ruling in Browning-Ferris, suggests a coordinated, federal push to expand joint-employer liability under a host of labor and ...

Time 1 Minute Read

Large-scale food safety issues have been hard to miss in the news lately. Chipotle’s multi-state E. Coli outbreak and listeria monocytogenes found in samples of Blue Bell Creamery ice cream products are some of the recent examples. After a product recall, retailers and other companies involved must focus resources on finding out what went wrong, remedying the problem and rectifying the company image. Hunton & Williams Insurance Coverage Counseling and Litigation attorneys recently authored an article, Insureds Find Place to Roost in Foster Poultry Contamination Case

Time 1 Minute Read

In response to an investigation by the National Advertising Division (“NAD”), Silver Star Brands will discontinue its “JuniorSlim” dietary supplement. JuniorSlim is a weight-loss product marketed toward children. In conjunction with the Council for Responsible Nutrition, which is designed to expand NAD’s review of advertising claims for dietary supplements, NAD requested substantiation for several claims—both explicit and implicit—on Silver Star’s website.


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