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5 posts from August 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pay-to-Play in Pennsylvania?

Readers of "Lawsuit Reform Watch" may recall our post earlier this summer about Governor Ed Rendell's office hiring a private firm with connections to the Governor to sue Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a J&J subsidiary. 

Yesterday LegalNewsline.com had a story about the suit, which is now before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  According to LegalNewsline, the Washington Legal Foundation has filed a amicus brief with the Court in support of Janssen's challenge of the Rendell contract.  Saying that it "takes pay-to-play to new heights," the WLF brief continues:

The retention of Bailey Perrin occurred in a manner that permits no one, least of all those responsible for that non-bid contract, to assert that the public interest or the taxpayers have been well served.

According to the story, the brief concludes that absent any public selection criteria, "there are no objective criteria that stand in opposition to the overpowering appearance of impropriety that exists here."

We at NJLRA will reserve judgment about whether Rendell acted in the public interest or if the selection of Bailey Perrin Bailey, which gave thousands to his re-election campaign, was untoward.  But at the very least this no-bid, unvetted contract to sue a corporation on behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on a contingency fee basis (i.e. with money, not justice as the motivation) without a public selection process is unsound policy.

As we've noted before, we in New Jersey should be grateful that Governor Jon Corzine's administration is more enlightened on this note.  Corzine has adopted administrative policies requiring that these contracts with the State be awarded competetively and under public scrutiny.

Warning Labels May be Required on Hot Dog Packages

Want to make a point? Why not file a lawsuit in New Jersey? 

New Jersey is making national headlines again this summer.  This time, it’s because an advocacy group thinks that New Jersey residents need a little extra help when they decide on their cuisine. 

The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group filed a class action lawsuit under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act on behalf of three of its most prized residents, who claim that they didn’t know eating hot dogs could be bad for their health.  The lawsuit was filed against Nathan’s Famous, Kraft foods/Oscar Mayer, and Sara Lee, alleging that the hot dog manufacturers failed to warn New Jersey residents that hot dogs are linked to colorectal cancer.  Whether any of these three residents actually suffer from colorectal cancer - or whether hot dogs cause it -  is irrelevant.  Going forward, the group wants to see cancer warning labels – the kind you find on cigarette cartons – on all hot dog packages sold in the Garden State. 

Why not push for a nationwide label?  Could the group be suggesting that hot dogs sold in New Jersey are more harmful than hot dogs sold in any other State?  Are New Jersey residents less astute about the perils of hot dogs than residents of New York and Oklahoma?  Did the hot dog manufacturers actually commit fraud? 

No, of course not.  New Jersey is simply an attractive place – to sue.   

Monday, August 24, 2009

Need money? Sue Oprah.

Even Oprah is a victim.

 Last month, poet Damon Goffe filed a $1.2 trillion lawsuit against Oprah Winfrey in Chicago, claiming that the talk show giant lifted his Internet-published “A Tome of Poetry” and republished it under the title “Pieces of My Soul.” 

 Goffe claimed that Winfrey and Harpo, Inc. sold 650 million copies of it at $20 each, totaling $1.2 trillion.  

That’s $1,200,000,000,000.00 for a web-based poem. 

Goffe’s ego and sense of self-worth, however, is not undervalued.  650 million copies of his poetry puts him in fierce competition with the Bible and the Koran as the most widely sold piece of literature of all time.  That’s quite impressive. 

I was tempted to buy a copy myself, but conveniently, Goffe’s “A Tome of Poetry,” and the website “Pieces of My Soul,” are no longer live on the Internet.  I don’t know how I’ve managed- albeit, unintentionally - to catch more tidbits of Stephanie Meyer’s 143-million selling Twilight series than Mr. Goffe’s mastery of the keyboard. 

Goffe’s lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, not because it appeared to be completely nonsensical, but because of one small oversight: Goffe never registered the copyright on his now-defunct poetry site. 

It is unclear how much in court-related fees Oprah had to shell out to defend herself against this nonsense, and this is not the first time that Goffe has filed suit against her.  Last year, Goffe claimed that Winfrey infringed upon unspecified personal property. 

You can read Goffe’s latest complaint here.  What's scary is that if Goffe continues with his annual lawsuit-against-Oprah regime, he may eventually be able to snag a few million dollars- not a bad side job if cranking out $20 poems becomes too cumbersome.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When Size Matters

A New Jersey appeals court ruled last week that a lawsuit filed against the makers of the dietary supplement Relacore is not appropriate for class-action status.  The original plaintiff, Melissa Lee, alleged that she purchased Relacore in 2004 based on advertisements which claimed the product would reduce belly fat; her weight increased instead. 

The Court wisely asserted that Relacore users might have bought the product for a host of reasons other than weight loss, including claims that it would enhance mood and reduce stress.  A casual suggestion from a friend could have also prompted a purchase by some users, and the product’s efficacy in conjunction with a user’s overall health warrant consideration, after all.   Proving which advertising claim led each class member to purchase the product would be impossible.  Moreover, at a cost of $40 - $120, it was unlikely that users of this product would sue individually (Lee v. Carter-Reed Company, A-4598-07). With such notably small consumer losses, it does suggest that this case really isn’t about the plaintiffs’ money. 

Ms. Lee sought certification of a class of all New Jersey residents who purchased Relacore since it first went on the market in 2002, alleging that advertising by its manufacturer, Carter-Reed Company, violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.  It’s worth noting that while it originated as a putative nationwide class action suit, the class was later narrowed to include only New Jersey buyers.  Carter-Reed is based in Utah.  New Jersey has become a hotspot for litigation tourism in recent years, as our civil justice courts are comparatively favorable for would-be plaintiffs.  Kudos to the appeal court for clearing one more frivolous case from New Jersey’s dockets.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Highway Robbery?

Even Ralph Nader’s Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C. is fuming. 

After seven years of legal battling in the Sacramento Courts, lawyers in a class action lawsuit against Ford Motor Company won $25 million – for themselves. 

Their clients? $300 off a new Ford vechile. $500 off if it’s a Ford SUV. 

After 50 days at trial in 2007, lawyers for Ford Motor Company and the class action law firm Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann, & Bernstein, representing nearly 1 million plaintiffs who owned Ford Explorers in the 1990s, agreed to drop the lawsuit, which alleged that rollover risks unfairly diminished the resale value of these vechiles.  Before authorizing the agreement, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that this settlement could be worth as much as $500 million to their clients.

Instead, they got coupons.  And these whopping discounts were not automatic for the plaintiffs.  They had until April 29, 2008, to apply for a voucher. 

The kicker? Motorists are still no safer driving their 1991 – 2001 Ford Explorers today than they were in 2006.  Stephen Webber, a Glendale, CA lawyer who owns a 1998 Explorer, expressed his frustration to The Washington Post last week:

“This coupon is valueless to me,” said Webber.  “It did nothing to improve the safety of my vehicle, and I have no intentions of buying a new one.” 

He’s not alone.  Court-ordered redemption tracking revealed that less than 100 coupons have been redeemed.