The Injunction Conundrum

** Courts Are Inconsistently Grappling With the Question of Whether a Plaintiff Has Standing for an Injunction Prohibiting Misleading Behavior if They are Aware of the Behavior ** . . .                                                                                                                               

An interesting catch-22 exists with respect to injunctive relief in purported consumer class actions in federal court.  If a plaintiff discovers misleading conduct (for example a mislabeled product), her basis for an injunction would be – relief from the company misleading her again!  But if the plaintiff is aware of the false advertising, is it plausible that she would be misled in future?  To quote the old chestnut – “fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me.”  By affirmatively pleading the elements of the misleading conduct, doesn’t a plaintiff inherently disqualify  herself from the standing required to seek an injunction in federal court?  This is the argument that won the day in the recent Yakult case in the Central District of California.  Plaintiff in that case, Nicolas Torrent, sued on the allegation that Yakult’s probiotic beverages that claim to have beneficial cultures which “balance [the] digestive system” are misleading because (according to Plaintiff) there is no credible scientific evidence that the probiotics do what Yakult says they do.  Torrent v Yakult U.S.A. Inc., No 8:15-cv-00124-CJC-JCG (C.D. Cal Jan. 27, 2015) (“By definition, healthy people already have a stable digestive health balance of trillions of intestinal bacteria. Yakult, contrary to what defendant advertises, cannot make a healthy person more healthy in terms of digestive health or otherwise.”)  Plaintiff claimed that Yakult violated California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 et seq.) and that he was entitled to restitution and injunctive relief.  Id. at ECF No. 32, Second Amended Compl. ¶¶ 14 – 16.  Curiously, though, by the time of the motion for class certification, Plaintiff dropped his demand for restitution or money damages and only asserted a claim for injunctive relief.  Id. at ECF No. 41, Pl.’s Mot. for Class Cert. ¶ 4.  With only the injunction at issue, the lawsuit became a test case of sorts.  In answering the question, the district court was clear that plaintiff did not have standing as there was “[in]sufficient likelihood that [he] will be wronged in a similar way.”  Id. at ECF No. 52, Order (January 5, 2016) citing Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 111 (1983); O’Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 495-96 (1974) (“Past exposure to illegal conduct does not in itself show a present case or controversy regarding injunctive relief … if unaccompanied by any continuing, present adverse effects.”)  The court noted the split within the Central District of California on the standing issue (see In re ConAgra, 302 F.R.D. 537, 573 – 76 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 1, 2014) (collecting cases)) and acknowledged the counter-argument that to deny injunctive relief would upset the enforcement of the UCL – but ultimately decided that it was not the courts’ place to carve out Article III standing exceptions for consumers.  Order at 6 – 8.  On that basis, Rule 23 class certification was denied.  Highlighting the split on this standing issue, a district court in Illinois just a few days later held the opposite.  Leiner v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Co., Inc., No. 15-c-5876, (N.D. Ill. Jan. 12, 2016).  In this case. plaintiff claimed that Johnson & Johnson violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act by labeling and advertising two “Baby Bedtime Bath products” as “clinically proven” to help babies sleep better – when it  allegedly knew the products hadn’t been clinically proven to have that effect. Plaintiff sought to represent a class of Illinois purchasers.  The Illinois court aligned itself with courts that have held that consumers don’t forfeit standing by knowing the basis of their claims observing that, without an exception, consumers could never avail themselves of injunctive relief.

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