By Guest Blogger Tyler Anderson
On November 2, we blogged about the FDA warning letter issued to Procter and Gamble for its unlawful marketing of Vicks cold and flu medications containing Vitamin C. On November 4, 2009, a putative class action lawsuit was filed against Procter and Gamble in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio (Sixth Circuit) alleging Procter and Gamble violated federal and state consumer protection laws through false and misleading advertising practices regarding the two Vicks products mentioned in the FDA warning letter.
Regardless of the merits of their case, the plaintiffs in this action may have a hard time obtaining their desired relief. In Count 1 of the complaint, the plaintiffs allege Proctor and Gamble violated the consumer protection laws of 43 separate states. The Seventh Circuit’s holding in its Bridgestone/Firestone decision (J. Easterbrook) and its progeny, suggests that under FRCP 23(b)(3), such a class action is unmanageable. Courts point to the impracticability of one court applying the divergent laws of differing jurisdictions in circumstances such as those at bar.
“Plausibility” pleading standards (see recent discussion of Wright v. General Mills) present additional hurdles. Applying Twombly as the court did in the Wright case, to survive a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs would need to make plausible, non-conclusory allegations that the plaintiffs purchased the Vicks products because they contained Vitamin C and the cost of the product with the Vitamin C was greater than it would have been without. No such allegations exist here, so applying the holdings of Twombly and Wright to this claim indicates that it may be subject to dismissal.
“Reliance” may be yet another avenue to dismiss the action (at least in part). Many state consumer fraud statutes require reliance. This means that the plaintiffs would be required to show that each plaintiff in the action bought the product in reliance on the purported fraudulent statement. Because purchasing decisions are individual decisions, proving reliance on a class-wide basis would be an individual inquiry that would predominate over issues of fact common to the class, which would negate class treatment.