California federal judge William H. Orrick handed plaintiffs in the JUUL multidistrict litigation (MDL) a win last week with an order that validates a large portion of the claims against JUUL Labs Inc. (JLI) and Altria, Law360 reported. Claims in the JUUL MDL, including some filed by Beasley Allen lawyers, against JUUL and Altria over deceptive marketing that plaintiffs say targeted youth to get them addicted to the products were consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in October 2019.
Judge Orrick determined that a large portion of the claims were valid stating that, “In the main, plaintiffs’ claims may proceed.” However, he dismissed the civil racketeering claims finding the plaintiffs’ allegations that the defendants’ activity violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act weren’t specific enough. He also asked the plaintiffs to be more specific in their claims that the defendants’ actions were illegal, giving them additional time to provide more details.
Among the cases consolidated in the class action are individual injury claims. Those plaintiffs allege that JUUL and the other defendants intentionally designed a nicotine delivery device that would increase the risk of nicotine addiction. They also charge that the defendants used, among other tactics, sleek and deceptive marketing, specifically targeting youth, to expand the market by encouraging individuals who had previously not used nicotine to use their products knowing the new users would likely become addicted.
“They adequately allege that JLI’s conduct—including a targeted marketing campaign on social media, flavored products such as mango and mint, and other actions targeting school-age youth—created and maintained an illicit youth market of school-age youth addicted to nicotine, causing extreme disruption in classrooms and unique harm to schools that is different in kind than the community at large,” Judge Orrick stated.
Additionally, government entity claimants similarly allege that JUUL and the other defendants intentionally designed and marketed their vaping devices to vastly expand their market of consumers. Further, they claim that as a result, the defendants launched a youth vaping crisis, which forced school districts to respond. School districts’ have spent “significant and unexpected levels of time and resources” to combat the epidemic.
Judge Orrick determined, “They adequately allege that JLI’s conduct—including a targeted marketing campaign on social media, flavored products such as mango and mint, and other actions targeting school-age youth—created and maintained an illicit youth market of school-age youth addicted to nicotine, causing extreme disruption in classrooms and unique harm to schools that is different in kind than the community at large.”
The court’s order also addresses the defendants’ argument that the government entity plaintiffs are barred from recovering under public nuisance claims. Again, Judge Orrick rejected the defendants’ arguments saying:
“The government entity complaints include plausible allegations that JLI had control over the conduct that created and maintained the youth e-cigarette crisis, such as directly and intentionally marketing to youth, distributing free samples to young audiences, presenting misleading information to students in schools, and preserving the availability of the popular mint flavor while ostensibly removing “kid-friendly” flavors from the market. These allegations match the type of public nuisance allegations that have proceeded past the pleadings stage in cases addressing opioids and firearms.”
By rejecting the defendants’ argument against the public nuisance claim in this initial legal challenge, Judge Orrick set the stage for the claim to survive more legal hurdles as the MDL continues unfolding.
Beasley Allen lawyers Joseph VanZandt, Sydney Everett, James Lampkin, Beau Darley, Soo Seok Yang, and Mass Torts Section Head Andy Birchfield, are currently representing a number of individuals who are suing the top U.S. vape maker JUUL for the negative impact its products have had on their lives. These lawyers currently make up our firm’s JUUL Litigation Team. Lawsuits have also been filed on behalf of school districts and public entities across the country, which seek to protect students and recover resources spent fighting the vaping epidemic. If you have a potential claim or need more information on JUUL, contact any of the lawyers on the team.