Consumer Fraud PFAS Cases Continue To Rise

Mar 1, 2023 | Environmental, PFAS, Toxic Tort

We previously wrote about two consumer fraud PFAS class action lawsuits filed in New York – one for a mouthwash product and the other for a sports energy drink. Now, in the last few weeks, two new lawsuits for different products types have been filed that allege similar consumer fraud allegations – one involving a popular smoothie product and the other involving a juice drink. These cases are but the latest in a growing line of PFAS lawsuits that allege that certain consumer goods contain PFAS, that the products or company’s values were marketed as healthy or environmentally friendly, and that consumers would not have purchased the products if they knew that the products contained PFAS.

As we predicted in early 2021, the increased attention on PFAS content in consumer goods in the scientific community and media presented significant risks to various industries, and our prediction was that the developments would lead to a significant number of lawsuits alleging consumer fraud. Consumer goods industries, insurers, and investment companies interested in the consumer goods vertical with niche interest in cosmetics companies must pay careful attention to these lawsuits.

Bolthouse Farms and Pom Wonderful Consumer Fraud PFAS Lawsuits

On January 19, 2023, various plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York seeking a proposed class action against Bolthouse Farms. The lawsuit alleges that the defendant company manufactured a popular smoothie product sold under the brand name Green Goddess as containing “100% fruit juice”, and that the company markets itself as making products that are healthy and safe for consumers and the planet. Testing showed that the smoothie contained certain types of PFAS in certain quantities and, as such, the statements regarding natural content were false, misleading or induced consumers to purchase products when the presence of PFAS in the products was not disclosed.

In the Complaint, plaintiffs allege the following counts against Bolthouse:

  • Violation of state consumer protection laws and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
  • Violations of various state consumer protection laws
  • Breach of warranty
  • Fraud
  • Constructive fraud
  • Unjust enrichment

The plaintiffs seek certification of a nationwide class action lawsuit, with a subclass defined as consumers in New York. In addition, the lawsuit seeks damages, fees, costs, and a jury trial.

Similarly, on February 14, 2023, a separate lawsuit was filed against Pom Wonderful in the Southern District of New York. The company manufactures a pomegranate juice drink, which is marketed as “all natural.” Testing conducted on the product showed that certain PFAS were in the drink at certain levels. The class proposed is a nationwide class and a New York subclass of plaintiffs. The Complaint makes similar legal allegations against Pom Wonderful as were made against Bolthouse in the smoothie case.

Just the Beginning For Consumer Products Companies

With studies underway, legislation pending that targets consumer goods, and increasing media reporting on PFAS in consumer goods and concerns over human health, product manufacturers should be increasingly wary of lawsuits similar to the Coca-Cola lawsuit being filed against them. There are an increasing number of PFAS consumer fraud cases being filed, with some of the below as representative of recent trends:

  • Cosmetics industry:
    • Brown v. Cover Girl, New York (April 1, 2022)
    • Anderson v. Almay, New York (April 1, 2022)
    • Rebecca Vega v. L’Oreal, New Jersey (April 8, 2022)
    • Spindel v. Burt’s Bees, California (March 25, 2022)
    • Hicks and Vargas v. L’Oreal, New York (March 9, 2022)
    • Davenport v. L’Oreal, California (February 22, 2022)
  • Food packaging industry:
    • Richburg v. Conagra Brands, Illinois (May 6, 2022)
    • Ruiz v. Conagra Brands, Illinois (May 6, 2022)
    • Hamman v. Cava Group, California (April 27, 2022)
    • Azman Hussain v. Burger King, California (April 11, 2022)
    • Little v. NatureStar, California (April 8, 2022)
    • Larry Clark v. McDonald’s, Illinois (March 28, 2022)
  • Food and drink products:
    • Bedson v. Biosteel, New York (January 27, 2023)
    • Lorenz v. Coca-Cola, New York (December 28, 2022)
    • Toribio v. Kraft Heinz, Illinois (November 29, 2022)
  • Apparel products:
    • Krakauer v. REI, Washington (October 28, 2022)
  • Hygiene products:
    • Esquibel v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., New York (January 27, 2023)
    • Dalewitz v. Proctor & Gamble, New York (August 26, 2022)
  • Feminine hygiene products:
    • Gemma Rivera v. Knix Wear Inc., California (April 4, 2022)
    • Blenis v. Thinx, Inc., Massachusetts (June 18, 2021)
    • Destini Canan v. Thinx Inc., California (November 12, 2020)

As the above is indicative of, several major companies now find themselves embroiled in litigation focused on PFAS false advertising, consumer protection violations, and deceptive statements made in marketing and ESG reports. The lawsuits may well serve as test cases for plaintiffs’ bar to determine whether similar lawsuits will be successful in any (or all) of the fifty states in this country. Companies must consider the possibility of needing to defend lawsuits involving plaintiffs in all fifty states for products that contain PFAS.

It should be noted that these lawsuits would only touch on the marketing, advertising, ESG reporting, and consumer protection type of issues. Separate products lawsuits could follow that take direct aim at obtaining damages for personal injury for plaintiffs from consumer products. In addition, environmental pollution lawsuits could seek damage for diminution of property value, cleanup costs, and PFAS filtration systems if drinking water cleanup is required.

Conclusion

It is of the utmost importance that businesses along the whole supply chain in the consumer products industry evaluate their PFAS risk. Public health and environmental groups urge legislators to regulate PFAS at an ever-increasing pace. Similarly, state level EPA enforcement action is increasing at a several-fold rate every year. Now, the first wave of lawsuits take direct aim at the consumer products industry. Companies that did not manufacture PFAS, but merely utilized PFAS in their manufacturing processes, are therefore becoming targets of costly enforcement actions at rates that continue to multiply year over year. Lawsuits are also filed monthly by citizens or municipalities against companies that are increasingly not PFAS chemical manufacturers.

CMBG3 Law is following judicial, legislative, administrative, and scientific developments relating to PFAS. More information about the services we can provide, including risk assessments, to ensure your business is ready for any intersection with these substances can be found on our PFAS Litigation page.

Our attorneys have been at the forefront of PFAS issues, including giving presentations as to the future waves of litigation stemming from PFAS issues. For more information, please contact the Chair of our PFAS – Toxic Torts Team: John Gardella.

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