Federal Court Denies Certification Of Mouthwash Consumer Fraud Class

MassTortDefense has posted about the growing trend of plaintiffs to use consumer fraud act claims in place of traditional product theories. Plaintiffs continue to believe that claims based on unfair and deceptive trade practices acts are somehow easier to certify as class actions because of differing notions of reliance and causation. Score one for the defense in the effort to beat back this tide, with the lesson that if plaintiffs live by such statute they have to live by all the statute. Silverstein v. The Procter & Gamble Manufacturing Company,  2008 WL 4889677 (S.D.Ga. Nov. 12, 2008).

This action arose out of Procter & Gamble's manufacture and sale of Crest Pro-Health mouthwash, which allegedly stains its users'  teeth and impairs their sense of taste. Plaintiffs purchased Crest Pro-Health mouthwash as consumers. After using the mouthwash, each allegedly noticed that his teeth had acquired a brown stain and that his sense of taste allegedly was impaired. Since then, both plaintiffs stopped using Crest Pro-Health mouthwash. Plaintiffs alleged a violation of Georgia's Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act (“UDTPA”) and moved to certify a plaintiff class. Defendant opposed this motion and moved for summary judgment.

The court noted that an analysis of class certification must begin with the issue of standing. Specifically, the court must determine whether the named plaintiffs, as individuals, have standing to pursue the claims they intend to pursue on behalf of the class. There are multiple types of standing. Constitutional standing ensures that courts do not assume jurisdiction over disputes that are not cases or controversies within the meaning of Article III. Prudential standing encompasses a host of doctrines of judicial self-restraint, such as the rule that courts will not address political questions more appropriately resolved by the representative branches of government. Statutory standing asks whether a statute creating a cause of action permits the plaintiff before the court to prosecute that cause of action. Here, the court addressed constitutional and statutory standing.


Plaintiffs in this case sought injunctive relief, as injunctive relief is the only remedy permitted to consumers by Georgia's UDTPA. The function of an injunction is to afford preventative relief, not to redress alleged wrongs which have been committed already. Because injunctions can rectify ongoing or future harm but cannot redress past harm, a plaintiff who cannot show continuing, present adverse effects or a real and immediate threat of future harm lacks Article III standing to pursue an injunction. Plaintiffs alleged past harm --browned teeth and a loss of taste. An injunction could not right these wrongs. They stopped using the product, and they now obviously know of the alleged defects. In determining whether to certify the class that plaintiffs proposed, the court determined it must not focus on the standing of unnamed class members, some of whom might, in theory, have standing to seek an injunction because they do not yet know about Crest Pro-Health's alleged defects. Whether the unnamed class members have standing is irrelevant, found the court. The result of the rule, in most applications, acknowledged the court, is that once a plaintiff learns about a product's defect, he has lost his standing to enjoin the manufacturer from producing it. “Such is the state of the law.”

When a plaintiff asserts statutory authorization to sue, he must fall within the class of plaintiffs to whom the statute grants the authority to maintain suit. It has been said that statutory standing comprises the zone-of-interests test, which seeks to determine whether the plaintiff is within the class of persons sought to be benefited by the provision at issue. A plaintiff who demonstrates past harm, but does not allege ongoing or future harm, has not shown that he is “likely to be damaged” within the meaning of the statute. Instead, Plaintiffs' alleged harm is entirely past. Because plaintiffs cannot “raise a factual question about the likelihood of some future wrong,”  they lack statutory standing to maintain an action under the UDTPA.

While plaintiffs described this result as a “catch twenty-two of statutory construction,” the court found no Joseph Heller-like dilemma: this result is actually a vindication of the UDTPA drafters' intent. Although its text does not foreclose lawsuits by consumers, the UDTPA was drafted primarily to allow businesses to enjoin their competitors' unfair or deceptive trade practices.

Because it determined that plaintiffs lacked constitutional and statutory standing to maintain their UDTPA claim, the court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment as to plaintiffs' UDTPA claim.
 

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