Justia Animal / Dog Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
Ryan Shapiro v. DOJ
Appellant made a series of Freedom of Information Act request seeking records related to the animal rights movement. During five years of litigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) produced tens of thousands of pages of responsive documents. The district court found that the FBI had adequately searched for responsive records and granted summary judgment in its favor. The FOIA requester now challenges the adequacy of the search for electronic surveillance records, as well as several of the district court’s interlocutory rulings. The DC Circuit explained that because it agrees with the district court that the FBI’s search was largely adequate, it affirmed in most respects. It remanded, however, for the Bureau to provide a more detailed explanation of its search for electronic surveillance records related to individuals mentioned in but not party to monitored conversations. The court explained that despite the FBI’s good-faith effort to process the voluminous requests, it agrees with Appellant that its declarations inadequately address one class of records: those related to individuals mentioned in monitored communications but not directly targeted for surveillance. According to its declarations, the FBI’s electronic surveillance indices include “the names of all individuals whose voices have been monitored,” but for many years field offices have not been “required to forward to [FBI headquarters] the names of all individuals mentioned during monitored conversations.” Thus, a limited remand is appropriate for the FBI to fill this gap in its declarations. View "Ryan Shapiro v. DOJ" on Justia Law
Weaver v. Champion Petfoods USA Inc.
Weaver purchased Champion dog food. Champion’s packaging describes the food as biologically appropriate, made with fresh regional ingredients, and never outsourced. Weaver alleged that: Champion’s food is not made solely from fresh ingredients but contains ingredients that were previously frozen; Champion uses previously manufactured food that failed to conform to specifications, as dry filler; Champion uses ingredients that are past the manufacturer’s freshness window; Champion does not source all its ingredients from areas close to its plants and sources some ingredients internationally; and there is a risk that its food contains BPA and pentobarbital.Weaver filed a purported class action, alleging violations of the Wisconsin Deceptive Trade Practices Act, fraud by omission, and negligence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of his suit on summary judgment. Weaver had failed to produce sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could determine that any of the representations were false or misleading. Weaver only offered his own testimony to prove how a reasonable consumer would interpret “biologically appropriate” and offered no evidence that he purchased dog food containing pentobarbital. He failed to show that Champion had a duty to disclose the risk that its food may contain BPA or pentobarbital. Humans and animals are commonly exposed to BPA in their everyday environments, Champion does not add BPA to its food, and submitted unrebutted testimony that the levels allegedly present would not be harmful to dogs. View "Weaver v. Champion Petfoods USA Inc." on Justia Law
Vanzant v. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.
Plaintiffs own cats with health problems. Their veterinarians prescribed Hill’s cat food. They purchased this higher-priced cat food from PetSmart stores using their veterinarian’s prescriptions before learning that the Prescription Diet cat food is not materially different from non-prescription cat food and no prescription is necessary. Plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The district judge dismissed the claim as lacking the specificity required for a fraud claim and barred by a statutory safe harbor for conduct specifically authorized by a regulatory body (the FDA). The Seventh Circuit reversed. The safe-harbor provision does not apply. Under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. 301, pet food intended to treat or prevent disease and marketed as such is considered a drug and requires FDA approval. Without FDA approval, the manufacturer may not sell it in interstate commerce and the product is deemed adulterated and misbranded. FDA guidance recognizes that most pet-food products in this category do not have the required approval and states that it is less likely to initiate an enforcement action if consumers purchase the food through or under the direction of a veterinarian (among other factors). The guidance does not specifically authorize the conduct alleged here, so the safe harbor does not apply. Plaintiffs pleaded the fraud claim with the particularity required by FRCP 9(b). View "Vanzant v. Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc." on Justia Law
Wysong Corp. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Based on allegedly deceptive pictures on pet food packaging, Wysong alleged false advertising under the Lanham Act, requiring proof that the Defendants made false or misleading statements of fact about their products, which actually deceived or had a tendency to deceive a substantial portion of the intended audience, and likely influenced the deceived consumers’ purchasing decisions, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the complaint's dismissal. If a plaintiff shows that the defendant’s advertising communicated a “literally false” message to consumers, courts presume that consumers were actually deceived. Wysong claimed the Defendants’ messaging was literally false because the photographs on their packages tell consumers their kibble is made from premium cuts of meat—when it is actually made from the trimmings. A reasonable consumer could understand the Defendants’ packaging as indicating the type of animal from which the food was made but not the precise cut used so that Wysong’s literal-falsity argument fails. A plaintiff can, alternatively, show that the defendant’s messaging was “misleading,” by proving that a “significant portion” of reasonable consumers were actually deceived by the defendant’s messaging, usually by using consumer surveys. Wysong’s complaints do not support a plausible inference that the Defendants’ packaging caused a significant number of reasonable consumers to believe their pet food was made from premium lamb chops, T-bone steaks, and the like. Reasonable consumers know that marketing involves some level of exaggeration. View "Wysong Corp. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law
Simms v. Bayer Healthcare, LLC
The flea-and-tick “spot-on products” at issue claim that their active ingredient works by topical application to a pet’s skin rather than through the pet’s bloodstream. According to the manufacturers, after the product is applied to one area, it disperses over the rest of the pet’s body within one day because it collects in the oil glands and natural oils spread the product over the surface of the pet’s skin and “wick” the product over the hair. The plaintiffs alleged false advertising based on statements that the products are self-dispersing and cover the entire surface of the pet’s body when applied in a single spot; that they are effective for one month and require monthly applications to continue to work; that they do not enter the bloodstream; and that they are waterproof and effective after shampooing, swimming, and exposure to rain or sunlight. The district court repeatedly referred to a one-issue case: whether the product covers the pet’s entire body with a single application. The case management order stated that the manufacturers would bear the initial burden to produce studies that substantiated their claims; the plaintiffs would then have to refute the studies, “or these cases will be dismissed.” The manufacturers objected. The plaintiffs argued that the plan would save time, effort, and money. The manufacturers submitted studies. The plaintiffs’ response included information provided by one plaintiff and his adolescent son and an independent examination of whether translocation occurred that detected the product’s active ingredient in a dog’s bloodstream. The district court concluded that the manufacturers’ studies substantiated their claims and denied all of plaintiffs’ discovery requests, except a request for consumer complaints, then granted the manufacturers summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The doctrines of waiver and invited error precluded challenges to the case management plan. View "Simms v. Bayer Healthcare, LLC" on Justia Law