A California federal judge threw out product liability claims in two bellwether cases against a trio of past and present Juul Labs Inc. executives in multidistrict litigation claiming Juul intentionally marketed its tobacco products to young people.
U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick agreed with Juul board members Nicholas Pritzker and Riaz Valani and former director Hoyoung Huh that they aren’t the appropriate defendants for the claims under Louisiana and Mississippi product liability law. And other related fraud and negligence claims are “clearly related” to product liability and therefore fall under the scope of those laws as well, the judge found.
At the same time, Judge Orrick refused to toss fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud claims in a third bellwether, holding that those claims are adequately pled under Connecticut product liability law.
The judge had previously tossed the product liability claims in a July order, but gave the plaintiffs leave to file amended complaints. At the time, Judge Orrick agreed with Valani, Pritzker and Huh that some of the “product-type” claims in the four cases were preempted under each respective state’s unified product liability acts. However, he said it was unclear whether other claims not covered by those statutes could be alleged against the executives in their capacity as members of the board.
Since then, the plaintiffs have filed amended complaints, and the directors again asked the court to throw out those claims.
In this order, Judge Orrick said the directors aren’t the appropriate defendants under Louisiana product liability law because they acted only through the manufacturer. Therefore, plaintiff Jacob Fairess’ amended claims should be dismissed.
MDL plaintiffs have faced several rounds of dismissal bids in the case, including in April 2021, after Altria had argued that the plaintiffs hadn’t sufficiently alleged its purported role in and control of Juul. But Judge Orrick said in that order that the plaintiff school districts, Native American tribes and municipal governments in the MDL have posited a plausible theory for their Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act claims.
In November, Judge Orrick permanently tossed a number of individual plaintiffs from the MDL, finding that they failed to submit substantially complete fact sheets in the case.
Juul and Altria are battling claims they misleadingly told the public that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes, fanning the flames of a youth vaping epidemic. In reality, the products were designed to give users higher doses of nicotine than traditional cigarettes, according to the hundreds of plaintiffs in the MDL.
Specifically, they allege that the companies targeted teenagers, using social media and advertising to present Juul’s vapes as “fun,” “harmless” and not addictive.