In early 2014, Neal Marder was quoted in an article relating to a $150 million suit over fire-prone dehumidifiers. Soleus International Inc., represented by a legal team that included Marder, sued Gree Electric Appliances Inc. over dehumidifiers that Soleus and Gree were selling together in the United States via a joint venture. Allegations made in the case accused Gree of a number of instances of misbehavior, which included pressuring Soleus to mask complaints and attempting to harm Soleus’ business after it brought concerns about overheating to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which recalled the dehumidifiers in 2013.
Gree moved to have the case dismissed, claiming it had no merit, but a federal judge in California granted Gree’s motion on only one of five claims made by Soleus, paving the way for the case to proceed on the other four claims. In response, Neal Marder said that “the court got it right in overruling virtually all aspects of the motion” and expressed his client’s intention to proceed to a jury trial.
The Supreme Court ruled in early 2014 that parens patriae suits initiated by state attorneys general did not count as “mass actions” and could not be taken out of state courts and moved into federal courts under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. The ruling was issued in response to a case brought by the state of Mississippi against manufacturers of liquid-crystal display (LCD) panels. It served to clarify federal law after several circuit courts split over whether such lawsuits could be removed to federal jurisdiction under the law.
The term “parens patriae,” which means “parent of the country,” originated in English common law under which certain powers and obligations belonged to the king as the “father of the country.” In the United States today, the government has adapted the doctrine for several purposes. It is most commonly used to assert the government’s role in protecting children and people with mental illnesses, but it also permits state attorneys general to litigate on behalf of the residents of their states.
A public interest law firm and nonprofit organization, Bet Tzedek provides comprehensive legal services free of charge to low-income families and individuals in the Los Angeles area. From its beginnings 40 years ago, as a group of volunteer attorneys helping impoverished Holocaust survivors, Bet Tzedek has grown into one of the country’s premier legal service agencies, with expertise in such practice areas as employment rights, housing, and public benefits.
While attorneys and other legal professionals can offer their expertise to the organization by serving on its board of directors, there are numerous ways for the public to get involved. One of the most popular ways for individuals to support Bet Tzedek is by attending its annual Justice Ball. Held every summer, the Justice Ball features live music and entertainment, dancing, and a silent auction, all in support of the more than 15,000 people Bet Tzedek serves each year. The event, which regularly sells out, has raised over $4 million for the organization since its inauguration in 1996.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. Congress sought a way to curb organized crime in America, holding numerous hearings that discussed how mob bosses and Mafia-affiliated families manipulated the system to avoid punishment while leading vast syndicates. The legislation that grew out of these hearings, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a part of the larger Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, enabled criminal and civil charges to be brought against the leaders of these organizations by establishing the existence of a criminal enterprise and a pattern of illegal behavior. However, while these racketeering charges were largely successful at defanging the Mafia, the current use of RICO in civil suits has become somewhat controversial.
In trials featuring names like Paul Castellano, “Fat Tony” Salerno, and Carmine “The Snake” Persico, RICO succeeded in taking down many of the country’s most infamous mob bosses. While the act has been instrumental in the fight against organized crime, the wide range of racketeering activities, which includes everything from murder or theft to copyright infringement or securities fraud, along with the broad definition of “enterprise,” has created an environment in which civil actions using RICO have become increasingly popular, creating debate among legal professionals and business leaders. Civil actions that involve RICO award treble damages, creating incentives for plaintiffs to uncover possible racketeering violations during discovery; and the pretrial asset and property seizure injunctions, originally designed to target Mafia shell corporations, place what some consider an undue burden on defendants.
Over the last several years, Neal Marder has written and spoken about the rising trend of greenwashing, an advertising technique that involves falsely showcasing a company’s environmental commitment. Neal Marder addressed the topic in an article titled “The ‘Reasonable Consumer’s’ View of Green Labels—Lessons From Two Greenwashing Cases,” which appeared in GCI Magazine in March 2012.
In this piece, he and colleague Christian E. Dodd highlighted several examples of greenwashing that led to class actions. The authors cited the 2010 case Koh v. SC Johnson & Son, Inc., in which SC Johnson placed a “Greenlist Ingredients” “seal of approval” on a bottle of Windex and advertised Greenlist as an environmental rating system; however, because SC Johnson fabricated the Greenlist logo and standards itself, the plaintiff argued that the company had engaged in false advertising. Consulting the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California concluded that the label was indeed misleading to a reasonable consumer and allowed the plaintiff to move forward with the class action suit.
In a second example, the authors examined the 2011 case Hill v. Roll International Corp. In this case, the plaintiff argued that Fiji Water has misrepresented its environmental commitment with a “Green Drop” on its label; however, a California appellate court determined that the symbol would not cause a reasonable customer to assume that an independent organization had certified the product as green.
A partner and leading attorney at Winston & Strawn’s Los Angeles offices, Neal Marder has published an array of other articles, which are listed on www.winston.com.
An experienced business and commercial law attorney based in Los Angeles, California, Neal Marder currently works as a partner with Winston & Strawn, a major international law firm with operations throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. In September 2011, he led an instructional eLunch titled “Effective But Overlooked Strategies to Defeat Class Actions.” In the interactive webinar, Mr. Marder focused on the court ruling on class certification, which often represents a pivotal point in a class action.
Defendants should maintain an in-depth knowledge of ways to defeat class certification, often by aggressive legal tactics. In particular, the presentation provided practical tips for implementing high quality out-of-court settlement programs and striking class allegations at the pleading stage. Mr. Marder also taught attendees about pleading compulsory counterclaims that identify individual issues and filing motions to preempt and deny class certification.
By utilizing one or more of these lesser-known strategies, defendants in class actions can greatly increase their chances of defeating the suits and emerging victorious.