Since previous FCC interpretations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) were invalidated by the DC Circuit in 2018, the definition of an “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”), has been hotly contested. The Ninth Circuit has held that merely calling numbers from a stored list is sufficient to meet the definition of an ATDS, while the Second and Third Circuits have at least indicated that the ability to generate numbers randomly or sequentially is the defining characteristic. Compare Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, 904 F.3d 1041, 1043 (9th Cir. 2018), with Dominguez v. Yahoo, Inc., 894 F.3d 116, 121 (3d Cir. 2018) and King v. Time Warner Cable, Inc., 894 F. 3d 473, 479 (2d Cir. 2018).
As reported on the February 7, 2019 posting to the Hunton Privacy & Information Security Law Blog, at least one class action lawsuit has been filed that expressly references the CCPA.
On February 5, 2020, the FTC announced two settlements totaling nearly $3.4 million against Quantum Wellness Botanical Institute, LLC and their principals for claims made to older adults that the “ReJuvenation” pill was an “anti-aging wonder drug.” For example, they represented that the pill could boost HGH levels and add stem cells to the body, thereby repairing age, cell, and heart attack damage; reversing deafness or blindness; and reversing damage from any disease, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Crohn’s disease. The FTC’s complaint alleged that, despite claims that the benefits of ReJuvenation were clinically and scientifically proven, the defendants had not conducted any such clinical trials, nor did any competent and reliable trials on the product exist. The federal court orders require the defendants to have human clinical testing to support future claims related to the treatment of any disease or health condition.
On February 3, 2020, the FTC announced a $350,000 settlement with Shop Tutors Inc., d/b/a LendEDU, a website that ranks and rates consumer financial products such as student and personal loans. The FTC’s complaint alleged that LendEDU and its principals violated the FTC Act by misleading consumers into believing that their website offered consumers “objective,” “accurate” and “unbiased” information, despite the fact that the company was alleged to be selling rankings and ratings to the highest bidder. The FTC also alleged that LendEDU touted unbiased positive reviews of its website, when the vast majority of those reviews had been written by persons closely associated with the company or were altogether fabricated.
As publicly traded retailers begin to prepare their annual reports and 2020 proxy statements, they should keep in mind a number of new and amended SEC disclosure items. As detailed in our recent client alert, hot topics for proxy statements include hedging policy disclosure, board diversity disclosure and overboarding of directors. In annual reports on Form 10-K, public retailers must consider new cover page requirements; new disclosure rules for material property, management’s discussion and analysis (MD&A) and exhibit filings; and most retailers will now disclose critical audit matters, or CAMS, as identified by their independent auditors. The SEC staff has also provided recent guidance on disclosure obligations concerning companies’ intellectual property and technology risks originating from international operations. The guidance builds on the SEC staff’s recent efforts to assist companies with the assessment and disclosure of new and evolving risk areas such as cybersecurity and LIBOR discontinuation. The SEC staff additionally has released new interpretations regarding public companies’ ability to incorporate by reference a discussion of the earliest of three years of its recent MD&A.
The Florida legislature has introduced identical bills in the Florida House of Representatives (HB 963) and the Senate (SB 1670) (collectively the Act) that, if adopted, will require companies operating websites and other online services in the state to inform Florida consumers whether it is collecting personal information, and to provide an opportunity for the consumer to opt out of the sale of the personal information.
A new bill introduced in Congress earlier this month could increase litigation risk for the retail industry by leaving companies unable to prevent the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) from disclosing inaccurate or premature information about potential product hazards. The Safety Hazard and Recall Efficiency (SHARE) Information Act, introduced on January 9, 2020, by U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), would also increase the maximum civil penalty for violations of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) from $15 million to $50 million. Largely seen as a response to public criticism over the perceived delays in the CPSC’s disclosure of hazards associated with infant inclined sleepers over the last year, the SHARE Information Act would allow the CPSC to tell the public that a product may pose a safety issue before the hazard has been confirmed.
Innovation and developments in technology bring both opportunities and challenges for the retail industry, and Hunton Andrews Kurth has a sophisticated understanding of these issues and how they affect retailers. On January 23, 2020, our cross-disciplinary retail team, composed of over 200 lawyers, released our annual Retail Industry Year in Review. The 2019 edition, Spotlight on Technology, provides an overview and analysis of recent developments impacting retailers, as well as what to expect in 2020 and beyond. Topics discussed include: braille gift cards as the next wave of evolving accessibility litigation; enterprise software licensing audits; the intense FTC oversight of online user-generated reviews and influencer marketing; challenges around skilled immigration for staffing roles in a variety of technologically-driven professions in retail; the increase in retail bankruptcies and the “retail apocalypse”; M&A as an ongoing strategy for navigating growth; upcoming modifications of the FTC’s Made in the USA program; cyber insurance coverage for phishing schemes and coverage for privacy breaches; the intricacies in AI product liability cases; and key retail payment trends such as frictionless payments, mobile payments and the rise of voice commerce.
Responding to a challenge brought by HelloFresh (Grocery Delivery E-Services, USA), the National Advertising Division (NAD) affirmed that Home Chef (Relish Labs, LLC) offered reasonable grounds on which to base its claims that its meal kit delivery service offers consumers more flexibility than HelloFresh’s similar service. In particular, NAD noted that Home Chef’s “Customize It” feature provides ample variety, permitting consumers to upgrade or increase the amount of protein in their weekly meal selections, or even change recipes entirely by switching out the protein. Still, the NAD took issue with various other iterations of Home Chef’s “more choices” claims, finding that certain of those claims exaggerated the amount of customization offered. For example, while NAD concluded that a reasonable consumer would interpret Home Chef’s numeric comparison of “choices” offered relative to HelloFresh to be a meals-to-meals or recipe-to-recipe comparison, Home Chef counted the customization options of “doubling” or “upgrading” of the protein as wholly different choices. NAD suggested narrowing such comparative numbers of choices to the competitors’ “base” meals or recipes, including those Customize It options where customers can switch out the protein. Home Chef has agreed to comply with NAD’s recommendations.
The theme for this Recall Roundup is effectiveness of recalls. In October, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation released an investigative report criticizing the CPSC’s data-handling breaches from the spring. This month, the Office of Oversight and Investigations Minority Staff from the same US Senate committee released a report criticizing the CPSC’s handling of three “high-profile failures to effectively recall dangerous products” last year. The report summarizes the CPSC’s actions related to jogging strollers, infant reclined sleeping products and home elevators. The report concludes that the CPSC’s “failures” are “the result of a pattern of inappropriate deference to industry that has characterized CPSC leadership in recent years.” The report recommends that the CPSC “at a minimum” increase the use of imminent health and safety warnings, fine companies that fail to timely report substantial products hazards and use refunds or consumer-friendly repairs as default remedies.