The California Food, Drug, and Medical Device Task Force announced a settlement this week with Goop, the lifestyle brand founded by Gwyneth Paltrow, which we’ve written about here and here. The complaint alleges that Goop made false and misleading representations regarding the effects or attributes of three products—the Jade Egg, Rose Quartz Egg, and Inner Judge Flower Essence Blend. According to the complaint, Goop advertised that the Jade and Rose Quartz Eggs—egg-shaped stones designed to be inserted vaginally and left in for various lengths of time—as well as the Inner Judge Flower Essence Blend could balance hormones, prevent uterine prolapse, increase bladder control and prevent depression. The complaint also alleges that none of Goop’s claims regarding these products were supported by competent or reliable scientific evidence.

The stipulated judgment prohibits Goop from (1) making any claims regarding the efficacy or effects of any of its products without possessing competent and reliable scientific evidence that substantiates the claims; and (2) manufacturing or selling any misbranded, unapproved, or falsely advertised medical devices. In addition, Goop agreed to pay $145,000 in civil penalties and will provide refunds to consumers who purchased the products during 2017.

Goop responded, in part, as follows: “Goop provides a forum for practitioners to present their views and experiences with various products like the Jade Egg. The law, though, sometimes views statements like this as advertising claims, which are subject to various legal requirements.”

Yep. True story. Here are a few other lessons:

  • When made on a site promoting sale of a product, statements by practitioners or other testimonialists about the benefits of that product are advertising (not sometimes, always) and can never be used to support claims that are not otherwise supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.
  • Competent and reliable scientific evidence is a flexible standard. For health claims, though, it frequently requires well-designed clinical tests. Simply put, the standard isn’t whether there is any evidence; it is whether there is credible evidence that experts in the field would agree is reliable.
  • Fanciful claims that do not rise to the level of disease prevention aren’t necessarily puffery either. Advertisers need to clearly understand when they are making objectively provable claims and have an obligation to substantiate them before dissemination.
  • Products that feature claims of disease treatment or reduction may be classified as medical devices or drugs and may be subject to FDA clearance or approval prior to marketing.

Goop claims to have modified its claims to comply with the settlement. Notably, the Jade Egg remains available. We’ll let you decide what to do with that.

The FTC recently finalized updates to its Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries, which provide the FTC’s interpretation of the jewelry marketing rules found in 16 C.F.R. §23.  The FTC hosted a roundtable in 2013, which we wrote about here, and considered stakeholder comments prior to finalizing the new Guides.  The updated Guides address a number of topics, including the surface application of precious metals, below-threshold previous metal alloys, gemstone products, and “cultured” diamonds.

What’s Changed

Some highlights of the changes include advising that jewelry marketers may:

  • Qualify if a coated product only has a service layer of a precious metal;
  • Advertise a product’s precious metal coating to assure reasonable durability;
  • Disclose the purity of coatings made with precious metal alloys;
  • Qualify a product’s gold karat fineness or a parts per thousand (PPT) designation for silver products that have less than 925 PPT;
  • Use alternative words and phrases for man-made stones (where it shares the same properties as the named stone) if they clearly and conspicuously convey that the product is not a mined stone.

Continue Reading All That Glitters Is Not Gold: FTC Updates Jewelry Guides

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article discussing a growing practice among retailers who use third-party services to identify fraudulent returns. These services will inform retailers when they think a return is fraudulent, and some retailers will reject returns based on this information, notwithstanding what is in their return policies. The article presents an example of consumer who was surprised when a retailer rejected his return and then referred him to the third-party service.

Although retailers generally have broad discretion about how to structure their return policies, there are some legal boundaries. For example, some states have specific requirements about what must be in a return policy and how it must be disclosed. More broadly, federal and state consumer protection laws generally require that retailers clearly disclose material terms prior to a purchase. This arguably includes terms of a return policy, including any exceptions under that policy.

Third-party services that help detect return fraud can provide significant benefits for retailers. (According to the article, less fraud can also benefit consumers because retailers can offer more generous policies.) But retailers should use care when relying on these services. If a customer complies with a retailer’s return policy, and the retailer rejects the return based on information from a third-party, the retailer is likely to face complaints. Simply pointing a finger at the third-party is unlikely to help.

One key question in any consumer complaint – or worse, AG investigation or law suit – will be whether the retailer acted in accordance with its policies and whether those policies were adequately disclosed. Articles such as the one in the Wall Street Journal often serve as food for thought for class action attorneys, so if you are using (or thinking about using) a third-party service to identify fraudulent returns, now might be a good time to take a look at your policy.

Last week, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that Michaels Stores Inc. has agreed to pay $1.5 million in civil penalties to settle allegations that Michaels failed to file a timely report about a safety hazard associated with a large glass vase that Michaels sold. In 2015, DOJ filed a complaint on behalf of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) against Michaels, an arts and crafts retailer, with charges that the company knew of multiple consumer injuries for over a year before reporting to the CPSC. Section 15(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act requires manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers to report immediately, which is defined as “within 24 hours of obtaining reportable information,” if a product has the potential to create a substantial hazard due to a defect, presents an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death, or fails to adhere to a consumer product safety rule or standard. If a company is unsure whether or not a report is required, it may investigate for up to ten working days.

Michaels sold about 200,000 vases, and the CPSC and DOJ alleged that the products could shatter in consumers’ hands because they were too thin to withstand the pressure of normal handling. Injuries reportedly associated with the breaking glass included permanent nerve damage and lacerations requiring stitches. Michaels, as the complaint asserts, “possessed information that the vases had injured one consumer in 2007 and at least four customers in the first half of 2009,” but did not report to the CPSC until February 2010.

In an unusual move for DOJ and CPSC, the original complaint alleged that, once Michaels notified the CPSC, it falsely conveyed how the glass vases were acquired, so DOJ also brought a material representation count. Specifically, the report Michaels submitted to CPSC stated that the vases were purchased from a vendor, but records identified Michaels as the importer. In April 2017, dropped the material misrepresentation claim to focus on the civil penalties and injunctive relief.

In addition to paying the civil penalty, consistent with previous civil penalties, Michaels must implement a compliance program to ensure timely and accurate reporting to the CPSC in the future.

To avoid similar consequences, companies should remember the very low bar for what triggers a Section 15(b) Report to the CPSC, even for products like glass vases that have inherent properties that could cause an injury.

The consumer advocacy non-profit Truth in Advertising, Inc. (TINA.org) has set its sights on Goop, the lifestyle brand launched by Gwyneth Paltrow.  In a complaint filed earlier this week with the Santa Clara and Santa Cruz County California district attorneys, both members of the California Food and Drug and medical Device Task Force, TINA alleges they found over 50 instances where claims were made that products Goop produces or promotes “can treat, cure, prevent, alleviate the symptoms of, or reduce the risk of developing a number of ailments.”  TINA has requested that the California district attorneys investigate Goop’s marketing practices. 

This is not the first time Goop has been forced to defend claims that it promotes.  Last summer, the National Advertising Division took issue with claims related to using “dust” dietary supplements, such as Action Dust and Brain Dust, both sold by Moon Juice.  The NAD closed the case after Goop agreed to permanently discontinue the dust claims. Continue Reading TINA Has Eyes on Goop

On August 2, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismissed a putative class action lawsuit against Ross Stores that accused the discount retailer of misleading promotional pricing practices. The lawsuit stemmed from February and May 2015 purchases by the two lead plaintiffs of items bearing price tags with a selling price and an instruction to “Compare At” the higher, reference price. Ross has since changed the reference price signal from “Compare At” to “Comparable Value.”

The Second Amended Complaint, filed in March 2016, contained the following allegations:

  • The use of “Compare At” is deceptive, as the higher, reference price is not a price at which substantial sales of the item were made in California.
  • The higher, reference price is the price of similar, non-identical merchandise – a material fact that Ross fails to adequately disclose.
  • A reasonable consumer would expect the reference price to refer to the price of an identical item.
  •  The retailer’s explanation of its comparison pricing is “buried” on the website and out of view in stores. Specifically, the explanation states that the comparison pricing “represents a recent documented selling price of the same or similar product in full-price department stores or specialty stores[, and w]here identical products are not available [Ross] may compare to similar products and styles.”

According to the plaintiffs, these practices violate California law, which promotional pricing statutes (1) prohibit retailers from making a false or misleading statement of fact concerning the reason for a price reduction, and (2) require that an advertised reference price have been the prevailing market price for the item within the immediately preceding three months. See Cal. Civ. Code § 1770(a)(13); Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17501.

In May, Ross and the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment and motion for class certification, respectively. With respect to the new, “Comparable Value” signal, the Court determined that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge these tags because they failed to present evidence that they actually relied on the phrase when making their purchases, or that they suffered any economic injury as a result of Ross’s use of the phrase. As a result, the Court granted the motion for summary judgment with respect to Ross’s use of “Comparable Value.”

With respect to the “Compare At” signal, the Court found that the phrase is not “obviously false or misleading on its face,” and the plaintiffs had not presented evidence, other than their own declarations and price tags, in support of their argument that the reasonable consumer would expect the reference price to refer to the price of an identical item. Regardless, the Court concluded, the plaintiffs also failed to demonstrate economic harm, and therefore lacked standing to pursue their claims. Importantly, the Court rejected the plaintiffs’ reliance on the Ninth Circuit decision in Hinojos v. Kohl’s Corp., noting that, “the standard of proof on a motion for summary judgment is higher” and demands proof that the items purchased were not worth as much as Ross claims, rather than vague averments of injury.

The overall design (such as the shape and cut) of a garment, bag or shoe is not protectable under current U.S. Copyright law because such items are considered “useful articles.” However, Section 101 of the Copyright Act provides protection for the “pictorial, graphic or sculptural features [of a useful article] that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the [useful] article.”[1]

In the fashion world, this provision of the Copyright Act allows companies to protect original pictorial, graphic or sculptural features that are applied to garments, bags and other accessories.  Examples include: fabric designs like a floral pattern; graphic art like an artistic rendition of a snake or tiger; and sculptural 3-D hardware adornments like belt buckles or buttons.  Copyright protection only covers the artwork itself, not the overall configuration of the garment or other product to which it is applied.[2]

For decades, courts and commentators have struggled to fashion a suitable test to determine when a pictorial, graphic or sculptural feature of a useful article (such as a garment) is protectable under § 101 of the U.S. Copyright Act.  On March 22, 2017, in a 6-2 decision written by Justice Thomas, the Supreme Court provided long-awaited clarificationMuch to the relief of the fashion industry, the Court adopted a test that preserves copyright protection for applied art to apparel and fashion accessories.

Continue Reading V-I-C-T-O-R-Y for the Fashion Industry: SCOTUS Establishes Uniform Test for Protection of Artistic Works Applied to Apparel

The Oregon AG recently announced a $545,000 settlement with the Vitamin Shoppe over allegations that the store violated Oregon state law by selling dietary supplements containing ingredients that FDA has deemed unsafe or unlawful. The new settlement agreement places significant burdens on the Vitamin Shoppe to monitor developments on ingredient status. The burdens are the same regardless of whether the Vitamin Shoppe sells a product under one of its own brands – or if it sells a product that was manufactured, labeled, and sold to it by a third party vendor.

Under the terms of the agreement, if the Vitamin Shoppe “receives or learns of” a “written notice” from FDA that an ingredient may be unsafe or unlawful, it must “take immediate action to suspend the sale of such products or products known to contain the ingredients.” If the Vitamin Shoppe becomes aware of any other “public announcement, warning, alert, publication, notice, or report” suggesting that the U.S. government, Australia, Canada, Britain, or the EU might consider a dietary ingredient unsafe or unlawful under the FDCA, then the Vitamin Shoppe must conduct a “reasonable due diligence review,” which may result in a decision not to sell any products containing the ingredient.

This settlement is notable for at least two reasons:

  1. It identifies FDA warning letters sent to the Vitamin Shoppe or anyone else as “written notice” that FDA has deemed an ingredient unsafe or unlawful.  Warning letters, however, state only allegations and are not considered “guidance” under FDA’s rule on “good guidance practices.”  Well after a warning letter is issued, the lawfulness of a particular dietary ingredient can be the subject of much ongoing debate, and even the FDA’s official guidance document on ingredient status remains in flux after years of debate.
  2. The settlement represents an aggressive stance by Oregon on a retailer’s liability for product formulation and labeling by third parties.  As we’ve discussed before, there isn’t a whole lot of precedent for regulators going after the retailer, rather than the product seller.

The Oregon Attorney General is currently in litigation against another retailer over similar allegations related to the legal status and safety of a dietary ingredient.

Kelley Drye Ad Law publishes News & Views: Dietary Supplement Advertising, which covers developments ranging from FTC and FDA regulation, class actions, Customs developments, and Prop 65. Subscribe to future issues by filling out your information and checking the Dietary Supplements Practice Group box here.

Yesterday, the Virginia Attorney General announced that it reached a settlement with Hobby Lobby over the retailer’s price comparisons. According to the press release, Hobby Lobby advertised discounts compared to “other sellers,” but failed to disclose the basis of comparison, thus making it difficult for consumers to determine whether they were getting a good deal.

The Attorney General stated that “comparison price advertising only works if businesses are clear about their prices and how they compare to competitors.” As part of the settlement, Hobby Lobby is required to more clearly disclose the basis of its price comparisons, in accordance with Virginia’s Comparison Price Advertising Act. In addition, the company must pay $8,000.

Regulators in other countries are also focusing on these issues. For example, earlier this year, Canada’s Competition Bureau announced that Amazon had agreed to pay $1.1 Million to resolve an investigation into the company’s use of “list” prices. Amazon would frequently advertise a list price with a line through it, followed by the selling price and a savings claim. For example:

amazon

The Bureau picked a sample of 12 products and investigated the prices at which those products were sold by Amazon and its competitors over a two-year period. According to the Bureau, those items were rarely sold at the advertised list price. Amazon stated that it required its suppliers to provide accurate price information, and had relied on this information, without independently verifying it.

The Bureau noted that Amazon had initiated various changes to its pricing practices, including (a) suppressing the list prices of certain products, (b) adopting policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the requirements the Competition Act, and (c) including the requirement that list prices be set in good faith for all products offered for sale by Amazon for Amazon Retail.

Based on recent trends, we expect to see more of these types of investigations in 2017. Retailers need to pay close attention to these developments and pricing laws, particularly when they advertise discounts, sales, or other price reductions.

 

 

Did you know Kelley Drye’s Advertising Law practice produces a newsletter, Ad Law News and Views, every two weeks to help you stay current on ad law and privacy matters? Click here to access our Publication Sign Up and select Advertising and Marketing to subscribe. Find contents from the latest issue below:

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Recent News

Chairman Kaye Steps Down as CPSC Chair; Republican Buerkle Assumes Role of Acting Chair

CFSAN Director Anticipates “Tweaks,” Not Rollbacks Despite Administration’s De-Regulation Emphasis

Smart TV Manufacturer “Smarting” after $2.2 Million Privacy Enforcement

FTC Announces Changes at the Helm of the Bureau of Consumer Protection; Thomas Pahl to Take Over as Acting Bureau Director Following Jessica Rich’s Departure

Not a Passing Grade: FTC Settles with Company Over Alleged False Advertising for High School Diploma Program

EU Data Protection Authority Issues GDPR Action Plan, Swiss Sign Privacy Deal with U.S.

New FTC Acting Chair Maureen Ohlhausen Offers Insight into Consumer Protection Priorities

CIT Adds New Requirements for ‘Assembled in USA’ Claims Analysis

FTC Cries Foul On Breathometer Accuracy Claims

Spotlight On Our New Texas Offices

Kelley Drye & Warren LLP recently merged with Jackson Gilmour & Dobbs, P.C., a highly respected Texas law firm best known for success in environmental litigation matters. The team also brings substantial experience in sophisticated regulatory and commercial litigation matters. The merger strengthens Kelley Drye’s litigation and environmental practices, as well as extends our national presence.

The collective environmental practices broaden Kelley Drye’s nationwide capabilities in site remediation, cost recovery, natural resource damages, and related insurance litigation, creating a powerhouse firm for businesses contemplating sales and acquisitions, debt and equity financings, and real estate development and construction where environmental issues may be present.

Please read more about our Environmental Law and Environmental Litigation capabilities, as well as our new offices in Houston and Austin

Analysis 

Marketing in a Multi-Device World: Update on Cross Device Tracking

On January 25, Kelley Drye hosted a webinar on maintaining transparency and respecting consumer choice while achieving marketing objectives. Megan Cox, Attorney at the Federal Trade Commission, J. Jurgen Van Staden, Vice President, Policy & Technology at the Network Advertising Initiative, and partner Dana Rosenfeld discussed recent law enforcement activity, such as the FTC’s recent settlement with Turn Inc., as well as self-regulatory guidance and enforcement issues surrounding cross device information tracking and uses. For a copy of the slide deck, please click here.

Our next webinar will be on “Litigation is Inevitable: Update on Recent Advertising Class Actions” February 22. Please click here for more information and to register.

To sign up to receive future webinar invitations, please click here and sign up to receive communications from the Advertising and Marketing practice group.

Suing over Empty Space: Why Lawsuits over Slack Fill in Packaging Are Growing

Partner Kristi Wolff co-authored the Nutritional Outlook article “Suing over Empty Space: Why Lawsuits over Slack Fill in Packaging Are Growing.” The article discusses the rise in lawsuits regarding slack fill, or the difference between the capacity of a container and the volume of the product inside. Read more…

ABA Section of Antitrust Law Presidential Transition Report

Partner Bill MacLeod addressed the American Bar Association’s Section of Antitrust Law with an introductory note to the Section’s 2017 Presidential Transition Report. The American Bar Association Section of Antitrust Law released its 60-page eighth sequential Presidential Transition Report, which offers a retrospective of current state and federal antitrust and consumer protection law and policy, as well recommendations for ways the new Trump administration might consider further strengthening policy and enforcement to deal with new antitrust challenges on the horizon. Read more…

Has the Supreme Court’s Resolution of Spokeo Played Out as Expected?

Partner Lee S. Brenner co-authored the Bloomberg BNA article “Has the Supreme Court’s Resolution of Spokeo Played Out as Expected?” On May 16, 2016, the United States Supreme Court held in Spokeo Inc. v. Robins that a consumer cannot satisfy the injury-in-fact demands of Article III by alleging only a bare procedural violation of a statute, divorced from any concrete harm. The article examines the Spokeo decision and how that case impacted litigation in various contexts, including data privacy, the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), the Fair and Accurate Credit Reporting Act (FACTA), and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Read more…

Fifty Countries and Counting, Sixty Sessions and More – at Spring Meeting: A Message From Bill MacLeod, Chair, Section of Antitrust Law

Partner William MacLeod authored his monthly address to the American Bar Association’s Section of Antitrust Law. This month’s message features The Spring Meeting of the Section of Antitrust Law. Read more…

Upcoming Events and Speeches

Toys for Sale: IoT Devices and Connected Kids
February 15, 2017 |WEBINAR
American Bar Association
Dana B. Rosenfeld Litigation is Inevitable: Update on Recent Advertising Class Actions
February 22, 2017 | WEBINAR
Jeffrey S. JacobsonRegulation of Cosmetics
March 3, 2017 | WASHINGTON, DC
Introduction to U.S. Food Law and Regulation
Kristi L. Wolff

Doing Data Right: Legal Best Practices for Making Your Data Work
March 16, 2017 |SAN JOSE, CA
Strata + Hadoop World 2017
Alysa Zeltzer Hutnik, Crystal N. Skelton

Eyes on the 1-800 Prize: IP Restrictions and Online Competition
March 29, 2017 | WASHINGTON, DC
65th Antitrust Law Spring Meeting
David H. Evans

Multi-State Privacy/Security Investigations: Expert Roundtable
April 20, 2017 |WASHINGTON, DC
Global Privacy Summit 2017
Alysa Zeltzer Hutnik

Impact of the 2016 Election on Antitrust and Consumer Protection Class Actions
April 27, 2017 |SEATTLE, WA
Law Seminars International’s Litigating Class Actions
Jeffrey S. Jacobson

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