Judge greenlights Juul consumers' class action over marketing claims

Juul brand vape cartridges are pictured for sale at a shop in Atlanta
Juul brand vape cartridges are pictured for sale at a shop in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
  • The economic loss claims allege that Juul downplayed its products' addictiveness
  • Juul argued that consumers were too different to proceed as a class

(Reuters) - A federal judge has allowed adult and juvenile buyers of Juul Labs Inc e-cigarettes to bring their claims accusing the company of misleading marketing as a class action, only weeks after federal regulators sought to pull its products from shelves.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco on Tuesday certified four classes — adults and minors, nationwide and in California — rejecting arguments by Juul and its top shareholder, tobacco giant Altria Group Inc, that the potential class members were too different from each other to litigate their claims together.

The class action claims do not allege personal injury, but seek only to recover money spent on Juul products. They are part of a larger multidistrict litigation before Orrick that includes individual personal injury claims and lawsuits by local governments and school districts accusing Juul of fueling an epidemic of youth addiction.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Juul and Altria did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The economic loss claims allege that Juul downplayed its products' addictiveness, and that consumers would not have bought them, or would have paid less for them, if not for the misleading marketing.

Juul said that they should not be certified as a class action because different consumers saw different advertisements, and some became addicted while others did not. Orrick, however, said these differences were "mostly immaterial under the legal theories asserted."

The key question of how Juul's marketing affected buying decisions was common to the entire class, he said.

Under pressure from regulators, Juul in 2018 pulled popular flavors such as mango and cucumber from retail store shelves and shut down its social media channels on Instagram and Facebook. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration ordered all of Juul's e-cigarettes pulled from shelves, though a federal appeals court has blocked that decision for now.

Juul has agreed to pay more than $87 million to settle with four states over related accusations that it marketed its products to minors.

The case is In re Juul Labs Inc, Marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 19-md-02913.

For plaintiffs: Sarah London of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; Dena Sharp of Girard Sharp; Dean Kawamoto of Keller Rohrback; and Ellen Relkin of Weitz & Luxenberg

For Juul: Gregory Stone of Munger, Tolles & Olson; and David Bernick of Kirkland & Ellis

For Altria: John Massaro of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer

Read more:

Juul consumers press judge for class status on economic loss

Juul settles with Washington state for $22.5 million

Federal appeals court puts FDA ban on Juul e-cigarette sales on hold

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.