On October 18, 2023, Amazon filed a motion to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s lawsuit alleging that the company deceived millions of consumers into nonconsensual Prime membership enrollment and thwarted members’ attempts to cancel their Prime subscriptions. In a heavily redacted complaint filed on June 21, 2023 in the Western District of Washington, the FTC charges Amazon with using “manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user-interface designs known as ‘dark patterns’ to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically-renewing Prime subscriptions,” in violation of the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (“ROSCA”). The FTC describes the Amazon platform as bombarding customers with options to sign up for Prime and obscuring options to shop without Prime, making non-Prime alternatives difficult for consumers to locate. In some cases, the FTC alleges, the button to complete a transaction did not clearly state the shopper was also agreeing to enroll in a recurring Prime subscription.
Statutes permitting discretionary attorney fee-shifting for prevailing defendants vary in the circumstances under which fee-shifting is permitted. Two recent cases tackling the question of why and when a lawsuit warrants shifting attorneys’ fees from a prevailing defendant to the plaintiff who brought the claim reflect some of these differences. One case focused on “frivolousness” of the lawsuit, and the other imposed a “bad faith” requirement—despite the absence of such language from the relevant statute. The perceived motivation of the respective plaintiffs and purpose behind the statutes under which the claims were brought were influential.
At the end of June 2023, the FTC proposed a new rule targeted at deceptive reviews in the marketplace. The proposed rule would prohibit advertisers and marketers from employing illicit review and endorsement practices such as using fake reviews, buying positive reviews, and suppressing negative reviews.
In explaining its motivation for the proposal, the Commission noted the widespread emergence of generative artificial intelligence (AI), which it fears could lead to a drastic increase in the prevalence of fake reviews. The FTC hopes to “level the playing field for honest companies” with this new rule.
In April, we discussed oral arguments at the Supreme Court for Abitron Austria GmbH et al. v. Hetronic International, Inc., a case in which the Supreme Court considered the extraterritorial reach of the Lanham Act (“Act”) for the first time since 1952. Last month, the Court ruled that the Lanham Act only reaches claims of infringement where the infringing use in commerce is domestic.
Last month, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on Abitron Austria GmbH et al. v. Hetronic International, Inc. and considered, for the first time since 1952, the extraterritorial reach of the Lanham Act. This case presents the opportunity for the Court to establish a uniform test for the Lanham Act’s extraterritorial reach when seeking remedies in U.S. courts and to provide clarity for U.S. companies looking to protect their marks and reputation around the world.
On March 22, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California dismissed a putative class action against Saks Inc. alleging that Saks advertised “phantom markdowns” of Saks-branded products. The Plaintiff alleged that he purchased a pair of men’s shoes “valued” by Saks at $145 but sold at a discounted price of $79.99. The plaintiff claimed that he only bought the shoes because he believed he was receiving a significant value and that Saks’s $145 market price was false and misleading.
A new putative consumer class action claiming damages in excess of $5,000,000 was filed earlier this month in the Northern District of California against Goya Foods, Inc. (“Goya”). The plaintiff, a purchaser of Goya octopus products from the website Amazon.com, alleges that Goya tricked consumers into purchasing its products by labeling them as octopus when in reality, the products contained jumbo squid. The plaintiff alleges that independent DNA testing showed that Goya’s products were in fact jumbo squid, which is significantly cheaper and of lower quality than octopus.