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March 13th, 2013

Plaintiff-Friendly Federal Court in Northern California Now Derisively Known as the ‘Food Court’

California’s leading journal for legal news has published a worthwhile story about the growing wave of preposterous consumer class actions that target the packaging and marketing of various food and beverage products, and which have found a welcoming embrace in the arms of judges comprising the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The story in The Recorder, “Welcome to Food Court,” by Vanessa Blum, reports that that’s what some lawyers “have taken to calling the Northern District of California, reflecting its emergence as preferred venue” for litigation that exploits absurdly permissive state consumer protection law.

Echoing the latest Judicial Hellholes report, Ms. Blum writes, “Though the merits of such cases have yet to be fully tested, judges here have rejected broad defenses to food labeling suits, spurring more litigation and setting the Northern District at the epicenter of a burgeoning legal fight over how food is labeled.

“For defendants, early rulings mean that while food cases might seem technical and lawyer-driven, they won’t be easy to get rid of — at least not in the early stages and before commencing expensive discovery.”

She goes on to quote one defense attorney, William Stern of Morrison & Foerster, equating Northern District judges’ receptivity to these costly food lawsuits to “a welcome mat.”

Nearly 30 new food label class actions have been filed in Bay Area federal courts within the last year, the story reports, by “a network of plaintiffs lawyers, including many veterans of Big Tobacco litigation.”

Arnold & Porter’s Angel Garganta says defense of food clients now represents the overwhelming majority of his practice.

“I call it greener pastures,” he says.  “The asbestos litigation has pretty much dried up. Tobacco — the global settlement is done. Securities class actions are not what they used to be. The plaintiffs bar has just been looking around for other targets.”

Don’t we know it.  ATRA has been warning of this latest get-rich-quick litigation scourge for some time, urging lawmakers to reform consumer protection laws so they can’t be so readily abused.  After all, such litigation only serves to make plaintiffs’ lawyers richer while it actually makes consumers poor once litigation costs are invariably passed on to them in the form of higher food prices.

In any case, ATRA recommends Ms. Blum’s story to everyone with an interest in the troubling growth of such consumer protection litigation.

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