Posts in Consumer Protection.
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Earlier this year, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed S.B. S1048A into law (which we reported about here) requiring sellers that impose credit card surcharges to post the total price, inclusive of the surcharge, on the item. The law is aimed at preventing consumers from being misled when making a purchase using their credit card. Governor Hochul recently announced guidance to help businesses better implement the law’s requirements. The guidelines, which include an informational video as well as a one page brochure, provide three affirmative ways companies may comply with the ...

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Virginia is currently one of just two states, along with Mississippi, without state-court class actions. But in the most recent legislative session, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 259, which would create a class action mechanism in Virginia state courts. Under Virginia law, the governor can sign the bill, veto it, do nothing (which permits it to become law)—or he can propose amendments to the bill, which would then be sent back to the General Assembly at the “veto session” in April. The governor could veto the bill—or, in the alternative, he could propose an amendment to protect Virginia businesses from the threat of outrageous statutory damages claims under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

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In recent years, consumers filed a spate of class actions claiming that retailers misrepresented the retail price on discounted goods to mislead consumers into thinking they were obtaining a bargain. Many of those cases settled or were dismissed for lack of injury because plaintiffs failed to allege that the purchased item was deficient in an objectively identifiable way.

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Our 2023 Retail Industry Year in Review provides a comprehensive overview of recent developments, issues, and trends impacting retailers, as well as a look ahead at what to expect in 2024. We hope you will take a few minutes to review our new publication released last week.

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On January 26, 2024, the FTC announced that it had entered into an agreement with tractor maker Kubota North America Corporation, settling allegations that Kubota falsely labeled some of its replacement parts as “Made in USA” despite manufacturing those parts entirely overseas. The FTC’s complaint was filed along with a consent order that requires Kubota to pay a $2 million civil penalty, the largest penalty ever assessed for violations of the FTC’s Made in USA Labeling Rule. The consent order also requires Kubota to comply with the FTC’s requirements for Made in USA claims.

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On December 13, 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed Senate Bill S1048A into law requiring sellers that impose credit card surcharges to post the total price, inclusive of the surcharge. In addition, the surcharge to customers may not exceed the amount of the surcharge charged to the business by the credit card company for such credit card use. Per the legislative history, “This bill is necessary to prevent consumers from being misled when making a purchase using their credits cards.”

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The Federal Trade Commission has announced that it will hold an informal hearing on February 13, 2024 on the agency’s proposed rule banning fake reviews and testimonials. As we reported in July 2023, the FTC is proposing to ban business from using illicit review and endorsement practices such as using fake reviews, suppressing honest negative reviews and paying for positive reviews, which deceive consumers looking for real feedback on a product or service and undercut honest businesses.

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Earlier this month, a Pennsylvania federal judge held that users of Bass Pro Shops’ and Cabela’s websites lacked Article III standing to sue the retailers for use of “session replay” software, where the users failed to allege that the software captured their personal information, such as financial data or medical diagnosis information.  In Re: BPS Direct, LLC, and Cabela's, LLC, Wiretapping, No. 2:23-md-03074 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 5, 2023).  

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Last week, the FTC sent high profile warning letters to two trade associations, the American Beverage Association (AmeriBev) and the Canadian Sugar Institute, and 12 registered dieticians regarding inadequate disclosures in the dieticians’ social media posts. While the specific influencer posts varied across dietician, they all related to the safety of aspartame, an artificial sweetener, and other messaging regarding the benefits of consuming sugar-containing products. Further, some dieticians even went so far as to call the World Health Organization’s warnings regarding aspartame and artificial sweeteners as based on “low-quality science” and “clickbait” evidence. While some of the dieticians included words like “#Ad” or “Sponsored” in their posts, according to the FTC most failed to provide obvious disclosures informing consumers that they were watching an ad that had been paid for by an industry association. The FTC’s warnings alleged that inconspicuous messaging surrounding these partnership deals led to consumer confusion regarding who ultimately was responsible for the influencers’ nutrition messaging. And according to the FTC, the fact that these influencers are registered dieticians increases the public’s confidence in the information they disperse, thus heightening the need for them to be clear about their partnership affiliations.

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As we reported Friday, the FTC has proposed a rule to ban misleading and hidden fees. While that initiative is pending, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed similar legislation, SB 478, into law. Effective July 1, 2024, the California statute prohibits advertising, displaying, or offering a price for a good or service that does not include all mandatory fees or charges other than taxes or fees imposed by a government on the transaction, or postage or carriage charges that will be reasonably and actually incurred to ship the physical good to the consumer. The legislation takes aim at ...

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The FTC announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) targeting misleading and hidden fees, commonly known as “junk fees,” and how businesses may advertise and market prices to consumers. The NPRM was drafted based on over 12,000 public comments to the FTC’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published in November 2022.

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BBB National Programs’ Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) has released new Guardrails for Child-Directed Advertising and Privacy in the Metaverse. As explained in a BBB press release, the Guardrails are intended to provide companies with best practices as they navigate the complexities of engaging with children in metaverse experiences. The Guardrails offer “actionable recommendations” on developing metaverse experiences directed to children, complying with existing advertising and privacy law, and engaging responsibly with children online. These guidelines build on earlier CARU guidance regarding metaverse activities.

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The FTC announced an enforcement action against online shoe seller Hey Dude, Inc. (a subsidiary of Crocs, Inc.) alleging Hey Dude suppressed more than 80% of consumer reviews that provided less than four out of five stars. The complaint also alleges multiple violations of the FTC’s Mail Order Rule between 2020 and 2022. A proposed consent order would require Hey Dude to pay nearly $2 million and take certain steps to prevent future violations.

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The FTC recently announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) aimed at curbing deceptive consumer reviews and endorsements. The NPRM primarily aims to expand the Commission’s ability to seek civil penalties against businesses using false and misleading reviews online, which the FTC maintains can cause significant harm to consumers and competitors.

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As reported on Hunton's Privacy and Information Security Law Blog, on May 31, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission announced a proposed order against home security camera company Ring LLC (“Ring”) for unfair and deceptive acts or practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

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Counterfeit goods continue to become increasingly ubiquitous, presenting a host of issues for both retailers and consumers. In addition to a variety of legal consequences and the sometimes massive effect on companies’ bottom lines, counterfeit and pirated goods are often accompanied by risks to public health and safety and even national security.

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the dismissal of a putative class action lawsuit brought by a consumer who claimed that The Kroger Company supermarkets falsely advertised its spreadable fruit product containing fruit-based sweeteners as “Just Fruit.” 

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On March 23, 2023, the FTC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking aimed at deceptive and unfair practices involving recurring charges for automatically renewing subscriptions and memberships. The proposed rule is part of a broader FTC initiative designed to crack down on “dark pattern” tactics that retailers employ to aid in customer acquisition and retention, among other things. Difficult cancellation procedures for subscription-based services are one such tactic identified as problematic by the FTC and targeted by the new proposed rule.

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On March 16, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission announced it issued orders to eight social media and video streaming platforms seeking Special Reports on how the platforms review and monitor commercial advertising to detect, prevent and reduce deceptive advertisements, including those related to fraudulent healthcare products, financial scams and the sale of fake goods. The FTC sent the orders pursuant to its resolution directing the FTC to use all available compulsory process to inquire into this topic, and using the FTC’s Section 6(b) authority, which authorizes the FTC to conduct studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose.

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The New York Attorney General’s Office (OAG) recently announced several proposed rules are intended to combat price gouging in New York during state emergencies. The OAG promulgated the rules pursuant to its authority under New York General Business Law 396-r, which makes it unlawful to sell goods and services “vital and necessary for the health, safety and welfare of consumers or the general public” at an “unconscionably excessive price” during “any abnormal disruption of the market.” The statute defines an abnormal disruption of the market as “any change . . . resulting from stress of weather, convulsion of nature, failure or shortage of electric power or other source of energy, strike, civil disorder, war, military action, national or local emergency, or other cause . . . which results in the declaration of a state of emergency.” N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 396-r(2).  

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The FTC and Attorneys General from seven states announced settlements with Google and iHeartMedia for disseminating thousands of allegedly deceptive endorsements, with the two companies being required to pay $9.4 million in state-levied penalties.

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The Federal Trade Commission published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on October 20 seeking public comment on a potential regulation aimed at curbing deceptive consumer reviews and endorsements. In its announcement, the FTC highlighted the prevalence of false and misleading reviews online and the harms they cause consumers and competitors.

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On October 18, 2022, the New York State Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS”) announced that EyeMed Vision Care LLC (“EyeMed”) agreed to a $4.5 million settlement for violations of the Cybersecurity Regulation (23 NYCRR Part 500) that contributed to the exposure of hundreds of thousands of consumers’ health data in connection with a cybersecurity event in 2020.

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The SEC instituted settlement proceedings against Kim Kardashian on Monday, alleging that the reality television star and entrepreneur violated the SEC’s anti-touting statute when she failed to disclose compensation that she received in exchange for an Instagram post endorsing cryptocurrency tokens.  The promotion, which Kardashian posted to her Instagram account on June 13, 2021, encouraged her 225 million followers to visit a website operated by EthereumMax, an online company that offers and sells digital “Emax tokens.” Kardashian’s Instagram post included an “#AD” hashtag, but failed to disclose that she received $250,000 from EthereumMax in exchange for the promotion.

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In the past year, the FTC has promoted consumers’ so-called “right to repair.” In particular, the FTC has focused on the “Anti-Tying Rule” of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (the “MMWA”), which limits manufacturers’ ability to steer consumers to manufacturer-affiliated repair shops. Plaintiffs’ firms have taken notice, filing a spate of class actions based on purported violations of the Anti-Tying Rule. These same firms have also filed a spate of consumer class actions against retailers alleging violations of the MMWA’s “Pre-Sale Availability Rule.” Manufacturers and retailers should confirm they are complying with the MMWA and state law.

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The FTC unanimously agreed to an enforcement action against American textile manufacturer Electrowarmth Products, LLC and the company’s owner for deceptively marketing its heated “bunk warmer” mattress pads products as Made in the USA. According to the FTC’s complaint, Electrowarmth’s products, while marked as being domestically made, were wholly manufactured and packaged in China, thus violating the Textile Act and the FTC’s Textile Rule. While the proposed settlement agreement contains an $815,000 monetary judgment, payment of the redress amount is suspended upon the defendants’ inability to pay.

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The Federal Trade Commission and six states have filed suit against Roomster Corp. and two corporate executives, accusing the residential rental listing platform of using fake reviews and unverified listings to generate tens of millions of dollars in business. According to the complaint, these practices often occur at the expense of vulnerable customers who rely on Roomster to find safe low-cost housing within expensive housing markets.

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In a case sure to send retail pharmacy corporate-types scurrying to board room meetings to ensure their bases are covered, a Northern District of California federal judge held that Walgreens’ Co.’s 15 year-long pattern of filling opioid prescriptions for customers without performing adequate due diligence as to the medical legitimacy of the prescription substantially contributed to the opioid crisis in San Francisco. As a result, Walgreens must—to a degree later to be decided in court—abate the opioid crisis in San Francisco that it helped to create. While the scope of Walgreen’s court-mandated abatement is not yet known, the fact that a retail pharmacy was held to be at least partially liable for the down-the-line harm stemming from its customers’ misuse of the prescriptions it fills is a headline holding, carrying with it the potential to raise the stakes of the everyday retail pharmacy work of filling prescriptions. In good news for other retail pharmacies generally and for Walgreens retail pharmacies in other states, the holding turned on two hinges that could swing the door of liability shut in other scenarios: 1) the habitual, 15 year-long practice of San Francisco Walgreens of skirting the due diligence required of them under the federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), and 2) the application of California-specific nuisance law that many other states have yet to apply in the same way.

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CARU, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of BBB National programs, issued a compliance warning last week reminding industry that the self-regulating body on children’s advertising and privacy intends to enforce its advertising guidelines in the metaverse, just like in the real world.

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On August 24, 2022, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the Office of the Attorney General’s (“OAG’s”) first settlement of a California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) enforcement action, against Sephora, Inc.

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The Children’s Advertising Review Unit of BBB National Programs (CARU) has issued two recommendations this summer addressing negative social stereotypes in children’s advertising. The first decision involves fashion retailer Primark and the second decision, involved Moose Toys.

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The Recall Roundup is a monthly survey of regulatory activity affecting the manufacture, distribution, and sale of consumer products.  Subject matter may include the latest product recalls, major federal agency developments, and proposed or new federal rules.  The blog’s goal is to provide an overview, rather than a comprehensive report on every development that could potentially affect businesses or consumers.  Nothing herein constitutes legal advice.  If you have questions or comments about the blog, please reach out to the authors.

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On April 14, 2022, the United States Environmental Protection Agency released an updated draft risk assessment for formaldehyde, in which it links long-term, low-dose inhalation of the common chemical to leukemia and various cancers involving the head and neck.  EPA has also identified potential links to non-cancer health outcomes, including sensory irritation, respiratory problems, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and nervous system effects.  The risk assessment associates these potentially adverse health effects with lifetime doses even lower than those identified by EPA in its 2010 draft, which EPA had agreed to revisit after the scientific community and industry stakeholders criticized its methodology.

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The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) has recommended that Moose Toys, an Australian toy company, modify ads and packaging of its “Little Live Pets Gotta Go Turdle” toy to disclose that kids should not eat the synthetic “Turdle food” that comes with the toy. CARU also recommended that future promotions of the toy depict adult supervision.

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On February 14, 2022, Noom Inc., a popular weight loss and fitness app, agreed to pay $56 million, and provide an additional $6 million in subscription credits to settle a putative class action in New York federal court. The class is seeking conditional certification and has urged the court to preliminarily approve the settlement.

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The Recall Roundup is a monthly survey of regulatory activity affecting the manufacture, distribution, and sale of consumer products. In lieu of the usual monthly recap, this post summarizes key events from 2021. Subject matter may include the latest product recalls, federal agency major developments, and proposed or new federal rules. The blog’s goal is to provide an overview, rather than a comprehensive report, on every development that could potentially affect businesses or consumers. Nothing herein constitutes legal advice. If you have questions or comments about the blog, please reach out to the authors.

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In the first FTC case to challenge a company’s failure to post negative reviews, the FTC has reached a proposed settlement agreement with the online fashion retailer, Fashion Nova, LLC, prohibiting the retailer from suppressing negative reviews and requiring the company to pay $4.2 million for harm suffered by consumers.

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The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs recently examined advertising claims by Straight Smile, LLC (Byte), seller of direct-to-consumer teeth aligners, recommending that Byte provide clear disclosures when reviewers of its product receive incentives in exchange for posting reviews.

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A group of Democratic representatives led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) have introduced a “Safer Beauty” bill package that would ban certain chemicals in cosmetics and require more ingredient transparency in the supply chain.  The Safer Beauty bill package is comprised of four separate bills targeting certain “chemicals of concern” commonly used in cosmetics—including PFAS, phthalates, and formaldehyde.

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Retailers, beware! The new wave in the fight against “robocalls” is coming, and it’s targeting telemarketing text messages. In the past six months, we have seen an uptick in activity at both the state and federal level to rein in telemarketing text messages, and companies using any kind of text messaging telemarketing will want to proceed with caution.

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The Recall Roundup is a monthly survey of regulatory activity affecting the manufacture, distribution, and sale of consumer products. Subject matter may include the latest product recalls, federal agency major developments, and proposed or new federal rules. The blog’s goal is to provide an overview, rather than a comprehensive report on every development that could potentially affect businesses or consumers. Nothing herein constitutes legal advice. If you have questions or comments about the blog, please reach out to the authors.

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Today, the FTC announced it had sent “Notices of Penalty Offense” to over 700 businesses, including top consumer products companies, large retailers, tech platforms, media and gaming companies, and ad agencies, warning them against engaging in deceptive and unfair practices when it comes to using endorsements and testimonials in ads.

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The CPSC’s nine-year saga over magnet sets has finally concluded.  Magnet sets are clusters of small, separable, magnetic balls that a consumer can rearrange into countless shapes.  In 2012, a distributor refused to voluntarily recall the magnet sets, forcing the CPSC to file an administrative complaint alleging that the magnet sets were defective and presented a substantial ingestion hazard to young children.  In 2017, the CPSC concluded that the magnet sets posed a substantial product hazard that cannot be mitigated by package warnings and ordered the distributor to recall the magnet sets.  The distributor sued in federal court to block the CPSC’s order.  After multiple appeals, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately agreed with the CPSC.  Thus, this month the CPSC issued a rare mandatory recall of 10 million magnet sets.  The recall noted that two children who had ingested the magnets from the magnet sets required surgery to remove them and a 19-month-old child died after ingesting similar high-powered magnets.  The CPSC also issued a warning to consumers about the dangers of high-powered magnets, noting that from 2009 to 2018, there was an estimated 4,500 cases of children from 11 months old to 16 years old who were treated in US hospitals for ingestion of high-powered magnets.

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As reported on the Hunton Insurance Recovery blog, Hunton product liability and mass tort attorneys Elizabeth Reese and Alexandra Brisky Cunningham and insurance attorney Latosha Ellis recently published an article in Risk Management discussing key lessons from Peloton’s Tread+ Recall.

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The CPSC (by a 3-1 vote) recently filed an administrative complaint against Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”) seeking to force the characterization of Amazon as a “distributor” of products under the Consumer Product Safety Act.  If the CPSC prevails on that characterization, Amazon would become responsible under the CPSA for recalling potentially hazard products sold via its “fulfilled by Amazon” program.   Although Amazon has engaged in recalls on what it has characterized as a voluntary basis, it has not conceded CPSC authority over it as a distributor.  The Amazon complaint that tees this issue up for judicial resolution involves carbon monoxide detectors that fail to alert, children’s pajamas that do not meet flammability requirements, and hair dryers without required water immersion protection devices.  Amazon has stopped selling some of these products, notified consumers who purchased the products about the potential hazards, and offered refunds via Amazon gift cards.  The CPSC views these steps as insufficient and aims to force Amazon to issue recalls and destroy the returned products.  Under the CPSA, a “distributor” is “a person to whom a consumer product is delivered or sold for purposes of distribution in commerce.”  15 U.S.C. § 2052(a)(8).  Under the “fulfilled by Amazon” program, merchants keep title to their products but store them at Amazon fulfillment centers, where Amazon packs and ships the products for a fee.  Although the CPSC views Amazon as a “distributor,” Amazon argues it is merely an intermediary for other retailers because it does not hold title to the products and therefore cannot be held liable for them.

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The COVID-19 pandemic caused supply chain interruptions across industries, from toilet paper and cleaning supplies, to red meat.  Although most states have resumed close to “normal” capacity and operations, the nation still faces an historic and unprecedented lumber shortage.  The shortage is the result of growing demand for bigger homes, new construction, and a surge of new DIY-ers amid the pandemic, coupled with supply chain disruption caused by the virus as production cuts and government shutdown orders stifled production at both domestic and foreign mills.  As a result of this perfect storm, prices for lumber and other building materials have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic, and have only just begun to fall, as the increasing supply struggles to catch up with still very high demand.  According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the average price of a newly constructed single-family home has increased by about $36,000 since April 2020, and the “price per thousand board feet” went from $350 to over $1,400 in May 2021.

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On July 21, 2021, the Federal Trade Commission announced increased scrutiny on purported restrictions of consumers’ “right to repair.” The statement, approved unanimously by the Commissioners, comes on the heels of the FTC’s "Nixing the Fix" report released to Congress earlier this year. That report asserted that some manufacturers use “anticompetitive practices” to limit the ability of consumers and independent repair shops to fix and maintain products. According to the FTC, those limitations “may increase costs, limit choices, and impact consumers’ rights under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.”

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On July 21, 2021, during an open Commission meeting, the Federal Trade Commission (Commission) voted to retain its longstanding Care Labeling Rule. This decision came after the Commission previously sought comment (in July 2020) on a proposal to repeal. The Rule, which has been in effect since 1971, requires manufacturers and importers to affix labels to certain garments and other goods providing care instructions, including dry cleaning or washing, bleaching, drying and ironing.

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At the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) July 1 meeting, it finalized a new “Made in USA” Rule that was almost two decades in the making. The FTC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in June 2020 and received 700 comments from stakeholders. During that time, the FTC has aggressively policed Made in USA claims (through an enforcement policy statement), settling a historic, million dollar follow-on Made in USA enforcement action and obtaining a six-figure settlement with an online retailer.

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The CPSC has recently focused its enforcement efforts on children’s products.  Fisher-Price recalled two of its infant sleep products—Rock ‘n Glide Soothers and Soothe ‘n Play Gliders—after four infant deaths were reported involving the first product.  All four infants were placed in the products unrestrained on their backs and were later found on their stomachs deceased.  This news comes after the CPSC’s actions last month to approve a new federal standard for infant sleep products and to recall two more products related to infant sleep.

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In the world of consumer products, the month of May was all about infant sleep products. The CPSC recently approved a new federal standard for infant sleep products for infants up to five months of age since such inclined sleepers, bassinets, and in-bed sleepers that have been linked to multiple infant deaths. Beginning in June 2022, infant sleep products must meet a new federal safety standard. The new federal standard incorporates a voluntary ASTM safety standard with further modifications to strengthen it. If the products do not already meet the requirements of an existing CPSC standard, then the products must pass testing to confirm that the sleep angle surface is 10 degrees or lower and comply with the CPSC’s safety standard for bassinets and cradles.

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The CPSC most commonly works with manufacturers, sellers, or those in the distribution chain to prompt them to issue warnings or recall notices to consumers. Recently, however, the CPSC has taken the far more unusual step of independently issuing its own warnings to consumers about dangerous products in three circumstances involving treadmills, youth ATVs, and bed rails.

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In 1973, Congress amended the FTC Act by adding §13(b), giving the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) equitable powers to remediate any violation of any law under its purview.  Using that power, the FTC has sought equitable monetary relief, including restitution and disgorgement. The lower courts routinely authorized such relief and Congress seemingly acknowledged the FTC’s power when it reauthorized the FTC Act. Despite those headwinds, today the Supreme Court unanimously held in a highly-anticipated case, AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC, that the FTC cannot seek or obtain equitable monetary relief pursuant to §13(b).

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has proposed a Direct Final Rule implementing the new federal upholstered furniture flammability standard.  The Direct Final Rule, published by the CPSC on April 9, 2021, would codify California’s TB 117-2013 flammability standard as mandated by Congress, but with the following significant clarifications:
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The Fifth Circuit recently issued an opinion concluding that the CPSC violated the APA when it issued a final rule in 2017 limiting phthalate content in children’s products. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) bans children’s toys and child care articles containing more than 0.1 percent of several phthalate chemicals because of concerns that ingestion can have harmful health effects on children. Phthalates are used to make soft and pliable plastics, such as vinyl. The CPSIA also directed the agency to promulgate a final rule regarding phthalates. In 2017, the CPSC issued a final rule expanding the list of phthalates covered by the ban.

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The CPSC recently announced its first civil penalty of 2021.  Cybex International, Inc. (Cybex) agreed to pay $7.95 million after the workout equipment manufacturer allegedly failed to immediately report to the CPSC the defects in two of its products.

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In response to industry and consumer demand created by the COVID-19 pandemic, ASTM International (ASTM) has released a new voluntary standard for the design, labeling, testing, and performance of face coverings.  The new standard, ASTM F3502-21, is the first voluntary standard directed at face coverings and “is intended to establish a national baseline” to allow consumers to make more informed decisions about the face covering products they use.

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While the eleven January recalls are summarized below, this first “Roundup” focuses on the evolving use of cashierless technology and what role it may play in the context of product recalls.  Broadly speaking, cashierless technology refers to using technology at brick-and-mortar business locations that allows shoppers to enter the location and purchase consumer products without standing in a checkout line or interacting with a cashier.  Rather, cameras and sensors track the products selected and charge the shoppers upon exit.

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Disputes between restaurants and third-party food delivery services—such as Grubhub and Uber Eats—have made headlines over recent years. This tension has only been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 was a particularly tough year for restaurants across the country and even tougher in cities like New York where rents are high and state-mandated business closures resulted in significant cuts to already narrow profit margins. However, the same has not been true for third-party food delivery services. In 2020, food delivery apps saw substantial increases in revenues. Uber Eats, for example, reported revenues of $2.51 billion in 2019; that number jumped to approximately $3.5 billion for the first nine months of 2020.

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Last week marked a double milestone for the FTC: Rebecca Slaughter assumed the role of Acting Chair, and the agency brought its first enforcement action under the Better Online Ticket Sales Act (“BOTS Act”), 15 U.S.C. § 45c(a)(1).

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After a hiatus from civil penalties, the CPSC recently announced a $12 million penalty.  In November 2017, Walter Kidde Portable Equipment Inc. (“Kiddie”) recalled fire extinguishers for two issues.  First, the fire extinguishers could become clogged or require excessive force to discharge.  Second, the nozzle of the fire extinguishers could detach.  These issues could result in a failure of the fire extinguishers to discharge during a fire emergency.  In fact, a 2014 death was reported involving a car fire after emergency responders could not get the fire extinguishers to work.  By November 2017, Kiddie had received 391 reports of defects, including one fatality, 16 injuries, and 91 episodes of property damage.

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Congress has passed a law mandating nationwide compliance with California’s flammability standard for upholstered furniture.  The “COVID-19 Regulatory Relief and Work from Home Safety Act,” included in the massive appropriations bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the President on December 27, 2020, incorporates the provisions previously proposed in the Safer Occupancy Furniture Flammability Act (SOFFA), a bill widely supported by the furniture industry.

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The FTC approved amendments to its Energy Labeling Rule, adding portable air conditioners to the class of appliances requiring yellow EnergyGuide labels effective October 1, 2022, and updating energy efficiency descriptors for central air conditioning units. The vote to approve the Rule was 4-1, with a concurring statement from Commissioner Chopra and a dissent from Commissioner Wilson. These two statements reflect deeply divergent views of the FTC’s role that everyone—not only air conditioner manufacturers—should keep in mind.

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The FTC has obtained a $1.2 million settlement in a follow-on action against glue manufacturer Chemence, the largest judgment for a Made in USA the agency has ever imposed. According to the FTC, Chemence violated a 2016 order involving deceptively labeled “Proudly Made in USA” glue products whose inputs were imported. Chemence subsequently provide trade materials claiming its private label glue products were all or virtually all Made in USA when significant proportions of the chemical inputs and overall costs to manufacture the products were attributable to foreign materials. The FTC’s new order prohibits unqualified “Made in USA” claims on Chemence products and requires qualified “Made in USA” claims to conspicuously disclose the origin of the parts and processing of the product. Under the terms of the agreement, Chemence is also required to notify customers and provide compliance reports to the FTC.

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The CPSC recently posted guidance on its website for consumer products related to COVID-19, including personal protective equipment. The guidance covers four categories of products: (a) face coverings, (b) gowns, (c) gloves, and (d) disinfectant and cleaning products. The guidance emphasizes that personal protective equipment sold to consumers must comply with all CPSC regulations, which include testing, certification, labeling, and recordkeeping requirements. The guidance drew sharp criticism from CPSC Commissioner Dana Baiocco in a statement:

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The CPSC took proactive steps in October to address recent concerns with infant sleep products that pose suffocation hazards and could lead to Sudden Infant Death (SID).  This month the agency made a rare proposal for a mandatory consumer product safety standard to address the risks associated with crib mattresses.  The safety standard would incorporate by reference the voluntary standard ASTM F2933-19 (Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Crib Mattresses) with modifications to make the standard even more stringent.  These modifications include increased product performance testing to cover crib mattress firmness, coil spring issues, and face-in-mattress scenarios.  The new rule would also update the product’s warning labels, instructions, and packaging to remove unnecessary wording and emphasize the importance of positioning infants on their backs to sleep.  For example, the proposal compares the voluntary standard’s warning label to the proposed mandatory standard’s warning label:

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On Friday, November 6, 2020, the FTC finalized its settlement with Sunday Riley Skincare, a cult-favorite skincare brand known for its high-end products. The action comes after the agency’s initial announcement in October 2019 that employees of the brand, under direction of CEO, Sunday Riley, posted thousands of fake reviews of the brand’s products online over the course of almost two years.

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has released COVID-19 guidance confirming that certain personal protective equipment (PPE) must comply with CPSC regulations, including testing, certification, labeling, and recordkeeping requirements.  The guidance, summarized below, also provides a concise overview of other federal regulations that may apply to these products.

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The upcoming election offers opportunities for leadership changes at the CPSC.  The agency currently has four commissioners and one vacancy:

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On October 1, 2020, New York state implemented a ban on businesses charging a “pink tax” for their products or services. The new law prohibits any individual or entity, including retailers, suppliers, manufacturers or distributors, from charging a different price for two “substantially similar” goods or services based on the gender for whom the goods or services are marketed.

Time 3 Minute Read

Last week the Eleventh Circuit delivered a surprising blow to class action settlement practice finding that 19th century Supreme Court precedent “prohibit[s] the type of incentive award that the district court approved here–one that compensates a class representative for his time and rewards him for bringing a lawsuit,” a type of incentive award that is “commonplace in modern class-action litigation.” Retailers and other defendants in class action cases should take note, because this ruling may impact how settlements in the Eleventh Circuit should be structured going forward.

Time 2 Minute Read

Even in a pandemic, some things do not change.  This month’s Recall Roundup finds the CPSC focusing on dangers that have been front and center for some time.  Specifically, the CPSC continues to focus its regulatory efforts on protecting consumers from product defects in all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and other recreational off-highway vehicles such as snowmobiles, golf carts, and utility vehicles.  The CPSC recently issued a warning to consumers about the risks associated with such products, especially as more consumers look for outdoor activities during the pandemic.  The warning cites to the CPSC’s Annual ATV Report of 2018, which identified almost 82,000 ATV-related injuries that required hospital treatment.  Nearly one-fourth of these injuries were sustained by children under 16 years old, the highest fraction of any age group.  There were also 264 ATV-related deaths in 2018, though this number is expected to rise as reporting is ongoing.  So far, the CPSC has issued 15 recalls for recreational off-highway vehicles in 2020.  In 2019, that figure was 20 recalls.

Time 1 Minute Read

Earlier this year, The Retail Equation, a loss prevention service provider, and Sephora were hit with a class action lawsuit in which the plaintiff claimed Sephora improperly shared consumer data with The Retail Equation without consumers’ knowledge or consent. The plaintiff claimed The Retail Equation did so to generate risk scores that allegedly were “used as a pretext to advise Sephora that attempted product returns and exchanges are fraudulent and abusive.”

Time 3 Minute Read

With the prevalent spread of COVID-19, hand sanitizers have become this spring and summer’s “fidget spinners,” cycling through the process from market shortage to glut in short order.  With such a rush to meet the drastic spike in demand, product missteps seem inevitable.  Although the Recall Roundup generally focuses on recalls under CPSC jurisdiction, the numerous FDA recalls involving hand sanitizers merits mention here.  Since June 27, 2020, there have been 15 recalls noted on the FDA’s “Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts” website.  Retailers looking to meet market demand should keep an eye on this FDA web site relative to the hand sanitizers they may have stocked for sale.

Time 2 Minute Read

On July 23, 2020, U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky introduced H.R.7756 to require online marketplaces to verify and disclose to consumers certain information regarding high-volume third-party sellers of consumer products. The goal of the bill is to combat the sale of stolen, counterfeit, and dangerous consumer products by requiring transparency of third-party sellers on online retail marketplaces.

Time 6 Minute Read

3M Company (3M) is a leading manufacturer of N95 respirators. According to 3M, medical workers and public-health professionals consider 3M-branded N95 respirators to be “the gold standard.”

Time 2 Minute Read

At a June 16, 2020 hearing, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation considered President Trump’s nomination of Nancy Beck to the CPSC.  In March, Trump announced his nomination of Dr. Beck to be Chairman and Commissioner of the CPSC.  The CPSC currently consists of two Republican appointees and two Democratic appointees with one of the Democratic appointees—Robert Adler—serving as Acting Chairman.  This month’s committee hearing included tough questions from Democrats and Republicans about how Dr. Beck would prevent unauthorized releases of confidential business information held by CPSC – a problem that has plagued the agency recently.  Dr. Beck was also quizzed about her prior experience as the Senior Director for Science Policy at the American Chemistry Council, which is a chemical industry lobbyist group.  Senate Democrats have expressed opposition to Dr. Beck’s confirmation as well as one Senate Republican on the committee – Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).  If every Democrat on the committee plus Senator Capito oppose the nomination, then the committee’s vote count is at a 13-13 tie, signaling that the nomination may not proceed to a full Senate floor vote.

Time 4 Minute Read

Should you have to pay to see CPSC’s adopted safety standards?  That is the question raised by a lawsuit filed in the Third Circuit this month, which challenges the CPSC’s adoption of mandatory safety standards for consumer products that are not available for free to the public.  The American Society for Testing and Materials (“ASTM”) is a well-recognized independent organization that develops consensus-based, voluntary standards for children’s products.  In 2019, ASTM updated its safety specifications for infant bath seats, which includes changes to labeling, product performance, and safety testing (ASTM F1967-19).  The CPSC later promulgated an agency rule adopting the updated ASTM standard as legally binding on infant bath seat manufacturers (16 C.F.R. § 1215).  On behalf of a new mother, a civil rights group filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 2060 challenging the CPSC’s rule.  The mother claims that she asked the CPSC for a copy of the standard and the CPSC instead directed her to buy a copy from ASTM.  ASTM charges $56 for a copy of the standard—almost double the price of an infant bath seat.  The petition asks the Third Circuit to vacate the rule, order the CPSC to make any binding standard freely accessible to the public whenever the CPSC proposes to promulgate a new rule, and order the CPSC to make any binding standard freely accessible to the public permanently after the CPSC adopts it in a final rule.

Time 3 Minute Read

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, retail sales plummeted 16.4% in April 2020. As state and local governments across the country begin to lift or ease Stay at Home Orders and business closures, retailers reopening their doors are grappling with how to protect their employees’ health and reassure customers that it is safe to shop.

Time 4 Minute Read

A consumer advisory issued on June 1, 2020 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clarifies which hard-surface disinfectant products may legally make claims regarding expected efficacy against the COVID-19 virus. The advisory, titled “What You Need to Know Regarding Products Making Claims to Kill the Coronavirus Causing COVID-19,” also warns retailers of potential enforcement actions if they sell non-compliant products.

Time 2 Minute Read

A consumer recently filed a products liability lawsuit against Keurig regarding its mini plus brewing system—a coffee maker that Keurig recalled at the end of 2014. Keurig recalled the brewing system after receiving about 200 consumer reports, including 90 reports of burn-related injuries, regarding the brewing system’s pressurized water overheating and spraying out of the machine. The lawsuit alleges that Keurig waited too long to recall the brewing system and therefore failed to warn consumers of the product’s defects. This lawsuit serves as a reminder to manufacturers, distributors and retailers that actions or inactions prior to issuing a recall may be subject to scrutiny and litigation.

Time 3 Minute Read

On May 6, 2020, the United States Supreme Court held oral argument in William P. Barr, et al. v. American Association of Political Consultants, et al., No. 19-631 (Nov. 14, 2019). In Barr, the Court was asked to consider the constitutionality of the government debt collection exemption to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Under that exemption, calls placed to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States government are not subject to the TCPA’s autodialing restrictions. The questions before the Court were (1) is the government debt collection exemption unconstitutional under the First Amendment and (2) if so, whether the constitutionality can be addressed by simply severing that exemption from the statute or whether the entire statute should be invalidated. Based on the tone of the oral argument, the tide may be changing for the TCPA.

Time 2 Minute Read

On April 21, the FTC announced a record-setting $9.3 million settlement with online retailer Fashion Nova for violating the decades-old Mail Order Rule by failing to meet advertised shipping times and failing to adequately compensate consumers affected by the delays.

Time 1 Minute Read

As previously reported in the Hunton Employment & Labor Perspectives Blog, on April 7, 2020, the City of Los Angeles joined San Diego County and issued an Order that requires certain workers to wear cloth face coverings. Notably, the Order is more expansive than San Diego County’s face-covering mandate because it covers workers in more occupations, applies to customers and visitors of certain businesses, provides face-covering maintenance requirements, and requires certain employers to furnish face coverings and other sanitary products.

Read more on the Orders in San ...

Time 2 Minute Read

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed most aspects of the economy. The world of consumer products is no exception to this trend. The CPSC has the following notice posted on its website warning that not all recall remedies may be currently available:

Time 3 Minute Read

On April 3, 2020, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and leading retailers participated in a conference call to discuss ways to protect American consumers from fraudulent COVID-19 disinfectant product claims. As the pandemic continues to wage on, some manufacturers have started to advertise their products as effective against the virus despite a lack of scientific evidence supporting the claim. Such advertising may violate federal law and potentially endangers consumer health and the environment, and could expose retailers to liability.

Time 5 Minute Read

On March 30, 2020, the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) issued its long-awaited draft risk evaluation for asbestos. In it, EPA preliminarily concludes that certain uses of asbestos pose unreasonable risks to human health. If those conclusions are made final, EPA will issue regulations addressing those risks in what would arguably be the most significant action the agency has taken to regulate asbestos since its 1989 ban was successfully challenged by industry groups.

Time 2 Minute Read

Williams-Sonoma, Inc., has agreed to pay $1 million to the FTC in settlement of claims that the home furnishing company made false and unsubstantiated representations that certain products were made in the United States. In its complaint, the FTC alleged that Williams-Sonoma—also doing business as Pottery Barn, West Elm, Rejuvenation, Outward, Mark & Graham and other brands—deceptively claimed that the company’s Goldtouch Bakeware products, Rejuvenation-branded products and Pottery Barn Teen- and Pottery Barn Kids-branded upholstered furniture were made in the USA. In reality, many of these products were wholly imported or contained significant imported materials.

Time 4 Minute Read

In a favorable decision for retailers, a California federal court judge scaled back a proposed class action seeking to bring nationwide class claims. Plaintiff Todd Carpenter alleged that he bought a rodent habitat at a California PetSmart and that the habitat was defective in such a way that his rodents were able to chew through and escape. He filed a class action in the US District Court for the Southern District of California for violations of California consumer protection laws, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and common law fraud. The plaintiff sought to represent a nationwide class consisting of all purchasers of the rodent habitat along with a California subclass. PetSmart moved to strike the nationwide class on the grounds that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over PetSmart with respect to the nationwide class.

Time 3 Minute Read

This month’s Recall Roundup starts with the wish that the coronavirus could be recalled. Perhaps the would-be CPSC commissioner who could deliver that recall would be unanimously approved.

On the topic of would-be commissioners, President Trump recently announced his intent to nominate Dr. Nancy Beck to be Chairman and Commissioner of the agency. Beck currently serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. She previously worked in various capacities at the EPA and Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. Beck also worked as the Senior Director for Science Regulatory Policy at the American Chemistry Council, which is a chemical industry lobbyist group.

Time 1 Minute Read

On March 6, 2020, the FTC announced a settlement with Teami, LLC and its owners over allegations that the company falsely promoted its Teami brand tea products as capable of curing serious health conditions and causing significant weight loss, supported by endorsements by well-known social media influencers who did not adequately disclose that they were being paid to promote their products. According to the FTC, after receiving a warning letter from the FTC in 2018, Teami implemented a social media policy requiring informative hashtags, but failed to enforce it, resulting in ...

Time 2 Minute Read

On February 19, 2020, the Seventh Circuit, aligning with previous decisions of the Eleventh and Third Circuits, held in Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc. that a defendant’s dialing system did not constitute an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) under the meaning of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act where it was not capable of generating random and sequential numbers. The court analyzed the language of the TCPA and determined that, as written, there were four potential ways to interpret the statutory language. However, based on both basic rules of grammar and punctuation, as well as the technology that was available at the time the TCPA was enacted into law in 1991, the Seventh Circuit decided that the Eleventh Circuit’s interpretation in Glasser v. Hilton Grand Vacations Company was the most persuasive. Therefore, the court concluded that, to be an ATDS, a device must be capable of generating random and sequential numbers. In other words, the Seventh Circuit agrees that a device is not an ATDS merely because it dials from a stored list of numbers.

Time 6 Minute Read

The new year ushered in a series of warnings from the CPSC about inclined infant sleepers posing suffocation risks and dressers posing tip-over risks to consumers. Both products have been under scrutiny by the CPSC over the past year.

Time 2 Minute Read

On February 12, 2020, the FTC announced its intention to review its Endorsement Guides (formally known as the “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”). These guides, first enacted in 1980 and revised in 2009, provide guidance to businesses, influencers and endorsers on how to make sure endorsements or testimonials abide by the requirements of the FTC Act. While advisory in nature, the Commission can take action under the FTC Act if an endorsement or testimonial is inconsistent with the Guides.

Time 4 Minute Read

Since previous FCC interpretations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) were invalidated by the DC Circuit in 2018, the definition of an “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”), has been hotly contested. The Ninth Circuit has held that merely calling numbers from a stored list is sufficient to meet the definition of an ATDS, while the Second and Third Circuits have at least indicated that the ability to generate numbers randomly or sequentially is the defining characteristic. Compare Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, 904 F.3d 1041, 1043 (9th Cir. 2018), with Dominguez v. Yahoo, Inc., 894 F.3d 116, 121 (3d Cir. 2018) and King v. Time Warner Cable, Inc., 894 F. 3d 473, 479 (2d Cir. 2018).

Time 1 Minute Read
On February 5, 2020, the FTC announced two settlements totaling nearly $3.4 million against Quantum Wellness Botanical Institute, LLC and their principals for claims made to older adults that the “ReJuvenation” pill was an “anti-aging wonder drug.” For example, they represented that the pill could boost HGH levels and add stem cells to the body, thereby repairing age, cell, and heart attack damage; reversing deafness or blindness; and reversing damage from any disease, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Crohn’s disease. The FTC’s complaint alleged ...
Time 1 Minute Read

On February 3, 2020, the FTC announced a $350,000 settlement with Shop Tutors Inc., d/b/a LendEDU, a website that ranks and rates consumer financial products such as student and personal loans. The FTC’s complaint alleged that LendEDU and its principals violated the FTC Act by misleading consumers into believing that their website offered consumers “objective,” “accurate” and “unbiased” information, despite the fact that the company was alleged to be selling rankings and ratings to the highest bidder. The FTC also alleged that LendEDU touted unbiased positive reviews of its website, when the vast majority of those reviews had been written by persons closely associated with the company or were altogether fabricated.

Time 4 Minute Read

The Florida legislature has introduced identical bills in the Florida House of Representatives (HB 963) and the Senate (SB 1670) (collectively the Act) that, if adopted, will require companies operating websites and other online services in the state to inform Florida consumers whether it is collecting personal information, and to provide an opportunity for the consumer to opt out of the sale of the personal information.

Time 6 Minute Read

A new bill introduced in Congress earlier this month could increase litigation risk for the retail industry by leaving companies unable to prevent the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) from disclosing inaccurate or premature information about potential product hazards. The Safety Hazard and Recall Efficiency (SHARE) Information Act, introduced on January 9, 2020, by U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), would also increase the maximum civil penalty for violations of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) from $15 million to $50 million. Largely seen as a response to public criticism over the perceived delays in the CPSC’s disclosure of hazards associated with infant inclined sleepers over the last year, the SHARE Information Act would allow the CPSC to tell the public that a product may pose a safety issue before the hazard has been confirmed.

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