Latest Round in Lipstick Wars Goes to Defendants

We previously posted about a case in which a federal judge threw out  a purported class action against L’Oreal USA Inc. and Procter & Gamble Distributing LLC that accused the companies of selling Cover Girl and Maybelline lipsticks containing lead. Koronthaly v. L’Oreal USA, Inc., et al., No. 07-5588 (D.N.J. July 29, 2008).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has affirmed the decision. Koronthaly v. L'Oreal USA,  No. 08-4625 (3d Cir. 3/26/10).

Koronthaly purchased lipstick products manufactured, marketed, and distributed by appellees L’Oreal. and P&G. She alleged these lipstick products contained lead. The FDA does not regulate the presence of lead in lipstick, but Koronthaly asserted that the lipstick contained lead in greater amounts than permitted in candy by the FDA. Koronthaly alleged that she did not know when she purchased the products that they contained any lead, and when she learned of the lead content she immediately stopped using them. Moreover, had she known of the lead she claims she would not have purchased the products.

To prove constitutional standing, said the court of appeals, a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) an injury-in fact that is actual or imminent and concrete and particularized, not conjectural or hypothetical, (2) that is fairly traceable to the defendant’s challenged conduct, and (3) is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Summers v. Earth Island Inst., 129 S. Ct. 1142, 1149 (2009). In this case, standing foundered on the first requirement, injury-in-fact, said the court.

Koronthaly’s argument that she was misled into purchasing unsafe lipstick products was belied by an FDA report finding that the lead levels in the defendants’ lipsticks were not dangerous and therefore did not require warnings. Moreover, Koronthaly conceded that she has suffered no adverse health effects from using the lipsticks. Koronthaly therefore had to fall back on only a subjective allegation -- that the trace amounts of lead in the lipsticks were unacceptable to her, not an injury-in-fact sufficient to confer Article III standing. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 564 (1992)(injury-in-fact must be accompanied by “continuing, present adverse effects”); Georgine v. Amchem Prods., Inc., 83 F.3d 610, 636 (3d Cir. 1996) (Wellford, J., concurring) (“Fear and apprehension about a possible future physical or medical consequence . . . is not enough to establish an injury in fact.”).

Furthermore, to the extent that Koronthaly contended that the injury-in-fact was the loss of her “benefit of the bargain,” she mistakenly relied on contract law, said the court. See Rivera v. Wyeth-Ayerst Labs., 283 F.3d 315, 319-21 (5th Cir. 2002) (plaintiff, whose only claim was that she “would like her money back” for having purchased a product that failed to make certain disclosures and allegedly was defective, did not have an injury-in-fact sufficient to create standing). Her lipstick purchases were not made pursuant to a contract involving lead levels, and therefore she could not have been denied the benefit of any bargain. Absent any allegation that she received a product that failed to work for its intended purpose or was worth objectively less than what one could reasonably expect, Koronthaly had not demonstrated a concrete injury-in-fact.

The dismissal was affirmed. In the lipstick wars, attention now will focus on Stella v. LVMH Perfumes and Cosmetics USA Inc., N.D. Ill., No. 1:07-cv-06509, dismissed 4/3/09; which is currently on appeal before the Seventh Circuit.
 

 

Lipstick Wars: Latest Round

Recently, MassTortDefense posted about a proposed class action alleging lead in lipstick. See Stella v. LVMH Perfumes and Cosmetics USA Inc., No. 1:07-cv-06509, 2008 WL 2669662 (N.D. Ill. 7/8/08). The Northern District of Illinois denied the motion to dismiss consumer fraud claims. Now, a federal judge has thrown out a purported class action against L’Oreal USA Inc. and Procter & Gamble Distributing LLC that accused the companies of selling Cover Girl and Maybelline lipsticks containing lead. Koronthaly v. L’Oreal USA, Inc., et al., No. 07-5588 (D.N.J. July 29, 2008), opinion found here.

The plaintiff brought various claims, including unjust enrichment, breach of implied warranty and violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The plaintiff asked the court to enjoin the companies from carrying the lipsticks at issue and requested compensatory damages to recover the money she allegedly spent on the products. She also asked for damages to cover the costs of medical monitoring to detect lead poisoning. Plaintiff contended she would not have bought the lipsticks if the defendants had revealed that they contained the lead.

In contrast to the ruling in Illinois, the New Jersey District Court found the plaintiff lacked standing to sue since she had alleged no injury, harm or ascertainable loss from having purchased the lipstick. Plaintiff's allegations of a merely potential future injury were too remote and abstract to qualify as a concrete and particularized injury. Plaintiff had not alleged any present injury. Plaintiff's mere demand for damages did not establish injury-in-fact either. Plaintiff bought lipstick and used the lipstick, only complaining that the lipstick's alleged levels of lead were unsatisfactory to her. The FDA does not provide limitations on lead levels in lipstick. The FDA does not otherwise regulate lipstick. The plaintiff's analogy to lead in candy was insufficient. Plaintiff cannot seek a remedy for a harm that she has not actually or allegedly suffered.

The plaintiff's allegation of economic injury in a products liability action is insufficient to establish an injury-in-fact. The plaintiff had suffered no ill effects from use of the product, and had not alleged that any future harm was expected. The so-called benefit of the bargain injury could not sustain a claim under these circumstances.

What is interesting is that the court's analysis focused not so much on the elements of the state statue, but the requirement of standing under Article III. The triad of injury in fact, causation, and redressability comprises the core of Article III's case or controversy requirement. Plaintiff's alleged injury was too conjectural and hypothetical to satisfy the injury in fact requirement. Plaintiff thus lacked standing to bring her claim. And standing cannot be "acquired through the back door of a class action."