In this edition of Litigation Roundup, Keurig gets approval to settle a class action lawsuit over claims it made about the recyclability of its coffee pods for $10 million and the Dallas Court of Appeals held that a Jane Doe should be allowed to proceed with her claims Jerry Jones forcibly kissed her at AT&T Stadium.
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Eastern District of Texas
Marriott Wants Irvin’s $100M Suit Tossed or Transferred
U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant III hasn’t yet ruled on a request from Marriott International to either dismiss Michael Irvin’s $100 million defamation lawsuit in its entirety or transfer it to federal court in Arizona where the alleged incident that gave rise to the suit occurred, but he did grant a motion to expedite discovery March 1.
Irvin alleges he was forced to leave the Phoenix hotel where he was staying in the week leading up to the Super Bowl after what he describes as an “innocent and brief” interaction with a waitress in the lobby. He took the elevator to his room alone following the interaction but was “roused the next morning by the hotel’s private security force attempting to remove him from the hotel without explanation.”
Irvin said in the lawsuit that his ouster from the hotel under allegations of inappropriate conduct damaged his reputation, his relationship with the NFL — which removed him from all scheduled Super Bowl-related programming — and has interfered with “high-profile endorsements, appearances and other contracts.”
Judge Mazzant wrote that the narrow discovery sought by Irvin — surveillance footage and written reports — should be handed over on an expedited basis, citing the ongoing “reputational and economic” harm Irvin alleges he is suffering.
“As to Marriott’s contentions regarding its pending motion to dismiss or transfer this case, the local rules make clear that a pending motion to dismiss or transfer does not give a party license to refuse to participate in discovery,” the judge wrote.
Irvin is represented by Levi McCathern, Jesse Cromwell and Scott J. Becker of McCathern.
Marriott is represented by Nathan D. Chapman and C. Celeste Creswell of Kabat Chapman & Ozmer and Kendall K. Hayden and Tyler M. Frankel of Cozen O’Connor.
The case number is 4:23-cv-00131.
Northern District of California
Judge OKs Keurig’s $10M Settlement
Keurig Green Mountain will pay $10 million to settle a class action lawsuit accusing the company of slapping a false and misleading “recyclable” label on single-serve coffee pods.
U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. granted a motion for final approval of the deal Feb. 27 that will entitle anyone who purchased Keurig pods since June 2016 to financial compensation. Customers who can provide proof of purchase can receive between $6 and $36 while those without can receive $5.
“Defendant will also qualify its claims about pod recyclability with the disclaimer ‘Check Locally – Not Recycled in Many Communities,’” Judge Gilliam wrote. “Defendant will include this qualifying statement whenever it represents that the pods are recyclable, including on boxes and cartons, in electronic advertising and promotional materials, in video content, on its website, and in publicly available corporate responsibility and sustainability reports.”
The claims administrator has received about 623,000 claims so far, according to court documents. The final settlement also included $3 million in attorney fees for class counsel and about $568,000 in costs.
Keurig Green Mountain is represented by Creighton R. Magid, Kent J. Schmidt and Mavdeep K. Singh of Dorsey & Whitney.
The plaintiffs are represented by Edward F. Haber, Ian J. McLoughlin and Patrick J. Vallely of Shapiro Haber & Urmy, Howard Hirsch, Ryan Berghoff and Meredyth L. Merrow of Lexington Law Group and Gideon Kracov.
The case number is 4:18-cv-06690.
Fifth Court of Appeals
Lawsuit Accusing Jerry Jones of Assault Will Proceed
A three-justice panel recently determined that Dallas County District Judge Aiesha Redmond erred when she dismissed a lawsuit brought by a woman identified as J.G. who alleges Jerry Jones forcibly kissed her on the mouth and grabbed her without consent at AT&T Stadium.
J.G. filed suit against Jones and the Dallas Cowboys Football Club in September 2020, bringing claims for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence and gross negligence, according to court documents. The suit stems from an alleged encounter between Jones and J.G. that happened in September 2018 in the Tom Landry Room.
J.G.’s original petition didn’t specify where the incident allegedly occurred and identified her only as “Jane Doe.” Jones and the Cowboys filed special exceptions in September 2021, arguing there were six pleading defects that required dismissal, including the plaintiff’s failure to identify herself.
In response, J.G. argued the special exceptions failed because they were directed at her original petition rather than the amended lawsuit. Judge Redmond ordered her to file a second amended petition by November 2021, court documents show.
Jones and the Cowboys then filed a motion to dismiss, alleging the plaintiff’s failure to specify where the alleged incident occurred and to fully identify herself doomed the lawsuit.
Judge Redmond granted a motion to dismiss in February 2022.
In a Feb. 27 opinion, the panel wrote that because J.G. had made a good faith attempt to amend her pleadings, including by identifying herself to defense counsel before the motion to dismiss was granted, her lawsuit should be allowed to proceed.
“This is not a case where the plaintiff’s pleadings failed to sufficiently plead a cause of action,” the panel wrote. “The only real pleading deficiency raised by appellees in their motion to dismiss was appellant’s failure to sufficiently identify herself in her pleadings. Appellees do not dispute that they were informed of appellant’s identity before the trial court ruled on their motion to dismiss.”
Chief Justice Robert D. Burns and Justices Ken Molberg and Amanda L. Reichek sat on the panel.
J.G. is represented by Thomas D. Bowers III of Irving.
Jones and the Cowboys are represented by Levi G. McCathern II, Jesse L. Cromwell and Aaron Dekle of McCathern.
The appellate case number is 05-22-00215-CV; The Dallas County case number is DC-20-13127.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Age Discrimination Suit Against Semiconductor Co. Revived
Tam Hoang, who had worked for Microsemi Corporation and its predecessors for 27 years before he was fired, had his age discrimination lawsuit revived Friday when a panel of judges found that a “reasonable factfinder could look at this evidence and conclude that Microsemi laid off Hoang because of his age.”
Hoang began working for Compaq Computers in 1990 and was kept on and promoted over the years while the company was purchased or reorganized, eventually becoming a systems development manager. Trouble began, court documents allege, when Microsemi hired a new quality assurance director in May 2017.
That supervisor was in charge of Hoang, who was 58 at the time, and two other managers who were 46 and 35 years old, respectively. But according to the lawsuit, the supervisor treated Hoang differently, requiring his subordinates bypass Hoang and giving him poor performance reviews for the first time in his career.
He was eventually fired under a reduction-in-force plan and was later given the OK to file suit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Texas Workforce Commission. A district judge granted Microsemi’s motion for summary judgment.
The Fifth Circuit noted that Hoang presented evidence that the average age of those fired under the reduction-in-force plan was 55.9, while the average age of employees retained was 39.1.
Judges Edith H. Jones, Jerry E. Smith and James E. Graves Jr. sat on the panel.
Microsemi is represented by Mark G. Kisicki and Carolyn Ann Russell of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart.
The case number is 22-20004.
U.S. Supreme Court
5th Circ.’s $2.7M Penalty Ruling Axed in 5-4 Ruling
A citizen who failed to file reports disclosing foreign bank accounts for five years does not owe a $2.72 million fine the IRS imposed but rather a $50,000 fine for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, the U.S. Supreme Court recently held.
The high court issued its divided ruling Feb. 28, reinstating a final judgment U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant entered in July 2020: that Alexandru Bittner must pay $50,000 for the reporting failure, or $10,000 for each year he failed to report, and not a $10,000 for each of the 272 accounts he failed to report.
The Fifth Circuit had sided with the government’s interpretation of the law.
Bittner, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Romania, returned to this country in 2011, according to the opinion, then learned about the reporting requirements and submitted a late report covering the years 2007 through 2011. The IRS, which never contended the errors were “wilfull,” determined that because the late reports covered 272 accounts, Bittner owed a civil penalty of $2.72 million.
“Best read, the BSA treats the failure to file a legally compliant report as one violation carrying a maximum penalty of $10,000, not a cascade of such penalties calculated on a per-account basis,” the court wrote. “Because the Fifth Circuit thought otherwise, we reverse its judgment and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
Bittner is represented by Daniel L. Geyser of Haynes and Boone.
The federal government is represented by solicitor general Elizabeth B. Prelogar.
The case number is 21-1195.