Heads Up Google AdWords Users…Google’s been hit with a national unfair business practices class action lawsuit alleging the god of all things Internet unlawfully denies payments to thousands of website owners and operators who place ads on their sites sold through Google AdWords.
The Google AdWords lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that Google abruptly cancels website owners’ AdSense accounts often without explanation shortly before payments are due, and refuses to pay for the ads that ran prior to the cancelation.
According to the lawsuit, Google’s popular AdSense program translates annually to billions of dollars payable to website operators that host its ads via AdSense. Google’s AdSense advertising program induces website operators to host space for ads on their websites. Each time a visitor to the website interacts with the ad, the ad publisher who hosts the ad earns payment.
The complaint claims that the contracts and terms of service Google requires web publishers to sign are unconscionably one-sided, giving Google free reign to embark on what the lawsuit claims are actions devoid of good faith or fair dealing.
The complaint states, “Given Google’s contractual terms purportedly permitting it to withhold payment to publishers with disabled accounts, and in light of the experience of the plaintiff in seeing this policy actually effected, the total of earned funds that Google has refused to pay its AdSense publishers could be enormous.”
The lawsuit claims Google is in violation of contracts with users and in violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, and violation of the California Unfair Competition Law.
The named plaintiff, Free Range Content, Inc., is a California corporation that owns and operates Repost.us. Free Range Content first noticed a spike in AdSense earnings in Feb. 2014. At the end of Feb. 2014, Google issued a report stating that the plaintiff’s estimated earnings for the covered period were over $40,000–a number that seemed far too high. Then on March 4, 2014, two days before a scheduled March 6, 2014 call with an AdSense representative was slated to occur, the plaintiff received word from the AdSense program that Google had disabled its account.
The lawsuit seeks damages for all U.S. Google AdSense publishers whose AdSense account was disabled or terminated, and whose last AdSense program payment was withheld permanently by Google.
Major RICO settlement this week…thought to be among the largest civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Law (RICO) class action settlements in recent history: We’re talking $297 million—a preliminary agreement between plaintiffs in a multidistrict unfair business practices class action against U.S. Foodservice, Inc. and its former parent company, Koninklijke Ahold, N.V. The settlement agreement is pending approval by the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.
This US Foodservice agreement was reached on behalf of a class of customers, primarily hospitals and restaurants, who purchased products from U.S. Foodservice under cost-plus arrangements between 1998 and 2005.
The class claimed that it was defrauded by U.S. Foodservice when it created six companies that it controlled to inflate the “cost component” of the products that were subject to the arrangement.
Citigroup Employee Shareholder Settlement…Bank employees got screwed too—and this week they got some justice, with the agreement of a $8.5 million settlement ending a securities class action lawsuit pending against Citigroup. The lawsuit, brought by Citigroup employee shareholders, alleged the company concealed its exposure to subprime mortgages prior to its stock price dropping.
The settlement class includes over 7,000 Citigroup employees who acquired securities between November 2006 and June 2009. Yikes! The damage seems endless. Probably is.
Under the terms of the agreement a $2.3 million settlement fund will be established, to include six payments of approximately $50,000 each to the six lead plaintiffs, as an incentive award for their service to the case. The Erisa lawsuit was brought in 2009 by former Citigroup employees who alleged the company prevented employees who had purchased the bank’s stock from obtaining information about subprime losses by means of a series of materially misleading statements and omissions concerning its subprime exposure, overall business outlook and financial results.
The lawsuit was originally filed in California, but was later consolidated into a multidistrict securities litigation against Citigroup through New York.
Ok—Folks—we’re done here—have a great weekend and we’ll see you at the bar!
From Credit Cards to Health Records…only this was the result, allegedly, of an internal oversight….This week saw a data breach class action lawsuit filed against three Southern California hospitals alleging they released confidential records of 32,500 patients onto the Internet. OMG.
Lead Plaintiff, Kenneth Rice, alleges Cottage Health System hospitals in Santa Barbara, Goleta Valley and Santa Ynez Valley posted four years of patients’ records to the Internet from October 8 through December 2, 2013. According to the complaint, filed in Orange County Court, the hospitals learned of the “enormous” data breach when a man discovered the records online and contacted one of the hospitals.
Insync, a Laguna Hills-based tech company and lead defendant in the class action lawsuit, allegedly created a system for Cottage Health System hospitals enabling the health care provider to access records over the Internet. However, the lawsuit claims Insync did not encrypt the data or take other security measures. Consequently, for eight weeks private health records were “readily available” to anyone with an Internet connection, the complaint states.
“The extent of the breach is enormous. This was not a situation where some isolated medical record was disclosed and released on the Internet,” the complaint states. “The medical files for 32,500 patients who received treatment over a period of over 4 years at Cottage Hospital were taken from the hospital, placed in electronic form on various servers connected to the Internet, where they could be reviewed, copied or otherwise examined by any of the hundreds of millions of people who ‘surf’ the internet every day.”
The records that were posted belonged to patients who had visited the hospital from September 29, 2009 to December 2, 2013. “How was it possible that the medical records could be placed in the public domain Internet, for anyone to view for months, without Cottage Hospital detecting that anyone surfing the internet could view the confidential medical records of 32,500 of its patients?” the lawsuit states.
Rice alleges the “only answer” is that the hospital was “completely negligent,” failing to take appropriate patient protections as stipulated by the California Medical Information Act and The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
The hospital had a legal obligation to “institute sufficient management safeguards to detect and prevent such breaches from occurring,” Rice adds in the complaint.
Domino’s Delivered a $1.28M Bill for unpaid wages and overtime. That’s right, An unpaid overtime, wage and hour class action lawsuit pending against Domino’s Pizza on East 89th Street in Manhattan has finally been settled. It was brought by pizza delivery man Carlos Rodriguez Herrera and 60 co-workers three years ago. But hey—better late than never, right?
In the Domino’s lawsuit Herrera alleged he frequently worked 65 hours a week but was only paid for 45. A co-worker, Anatole Yameogo, remembers working from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. one Saturday, but his pay stub showed he worked five hours that same day. “One manager told me you will work more than 50 hours a week but we’ll pay you for 40,” Mr. Yameogo said. “That helps the managers increase their bonus.”
In their lawsuit, the two bicycle deliverymen alleged the Domino’s franchisee who employed them was in violation of minimum New York wage and overtime laws, among other things. Over the course of time, dozens of their co-workers who worked delivering pizza, joined the lawsuit.
According to the reported terms of the Domino’s settlement, the awards will range from $61,300 to $400 per delivery person, depending on how long each worked for Domino’s Pizza New York (DPNY), which owns four Domino’s in Manhattan.
The litigation took three years, and accused DPNY of numerous wage and hour violations, including not giving a legally required lunch break, not paying for their uniforms, and paying a subminimum tip wage even when the workers did untipped work, like cleaning ovens and floors or distributing Domino’s flyers.
The lawsuit alleged that instead of paying a $5.65 tip wage for delivery workers, DPNY should have paid the full state minimum wage because the company failed to keep proper records of their tipped hours and failed to properly explain tip wages.
Mr. Rodriguez, originally from Mexico, said that in 2007 he complained to his manager that he had been improperly underpaid but instead of receiving fair hearing, he was fired on the spot. He then decided to take legal action. “The boss would always tell people, ‘If you don’t like it here, the door is open to go elsewhere,’” he said.
Notably, Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV of Federal District Court granted the plaintiffs’ request to include the national Domino’s Pizza company as a defendant, after the delivery workers asserted that it was a joint employer that knew or should have known about the franchisee’s alleged wage violations.
Citi’s Turn to Pay in Forced-Place Insurance Lawsuit… Citigroup will pay $110 million to settle a forced-place insurance class action lawsuit brought by a homeowner who alleged he was forced to pay expensive property insurance premiums.
According to the terms of the settlement, class members who were charged for force-placed hazard insurance will receive 12.5 percent of the premium upon submitting a claim. The proposed settlement agreement, which requires final court approval, also requires Citigroup to stop accepting commissions for force-placed insurance for a period of six years from the effective date of the settlement.
According to report by Reuters.com one of Citi’s unit that deals with the insurance received a 15 percent commission on hazard insurance premiums during the proposed settlement class period.
Additionally, Citi will refund 8 percent each of force-placed flood insurance premiums and force-placed wind insurance premiums, even though no commissions were paid to Citi or its affiliates on flood or wind insurance.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs were charged roughly $758 million in hazard insurance premiums and $173 million in flood insurance premiums.
The case is Gordon Casey, Duane Skinner and Celeste Coonan, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated vs Citigroup Inc, Case No. 12-00820, U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York.
Ok Folks, That’s all for this week. See you at the bar !
If you’ve been wondering what the largest SEC securities settlements have been for the first half of the year, the National Economic Research Associates, Inc., (NERA) recently released it’s mid-year update. NERA has a proprietary database of SEC settlements and judgments going back to July 21, 2002, and they track SEC settlement trends each year.
According to the NERA report for the first half of 2012, there are some interesting trends to keep an eye on:
• The SEC is on pace to settle with more defendants in FY12 than it has in any year since FY05.
• This increase is being driven by heightened settlement activity with individuals, particularly for allegations related to insider trading and Ponzi schemes; the SEC is on pace for a record number of insider trading settlements in FY12.
• The median settlement value with individuals continued to follow the upward path observed since FY10, while the median value of settlements with companies declined after reaching a record value in FY11.
• The largest settlements in 1H12 are the highly publicized settlements with Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. ($285 million), still under appeal after being rejected by Judge Jed Rakoff, and Raj Rajaratnam ($92.8 million).
The 10 largest SEC securities settlements for the first six months of the year were:
|Settling Defendant||Announcement Date||Settlement Amount||Allegation|
|1. Citigroup Global Markets Inc.||10/19/11||$285M||Financial Services Misrepresentation to Customers|
|2. Raj Rajaratnam, Galleon Management, LP||11/8/11||$92.81M||Insider Trading|
|3. Magyar Telekom||12/29/11||$90.80M||FCPA|
|4. George David Gordon, Attorney||2/16/12||$50.51M||Market Manipulation|
|5. Wachovia Bank N.A.||12/8/11||$46.08M||Trading Violations|
|6. Pentagon Capital Management||3/30/12||$42.05M||Market Timing/Late Trading|
|7. GE Funding Capital Market Services||12/23/11||$24.90M||Market Manipulation|
|8. MAAA Trust1||12/22/11||$24.75M||Insider Trading|
|9. Aon Corporation||12/20/11||$14.55M||FCPA|
|10. Joseph F. Skowron III, Portfolio Manager, FrontPoint Partners, LLC||11/17/11||$13.37M||Insider Trading|
|1Settlements that included a jointly liable individual.|
|Read the full NERA Report here.|
Sounds too good to be true? You better believe it baby—and pardon the pun. This week, the makers of Enfamil infant formula got hit with a federal consumer fraud class action lawsuit over allegations they falsely advertise that Enfamil and other formulas contain prebiotics that provide immunity-related health benefits for babies and young children.
The Enfamil class action lawsuit, Shenique Route v. Mead Johnson Nutrition Company d/b/a Mead Johnson & Company, LLC, Case No. 12-cv-7350, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, claims that Mead Johnson & Co. mislabel the products and that they do not support a baby’s developing immune system as advertised.
The Enfamil lawsuit targets misleading statements made on the product labels for Enfamil Premium Newborn formula, Enfamil Premium Infant formula, Enfamil A.R. for Spit-Up Infant formula, and Enfagrow Premium Older Toddler Vanilla Milk Drink products. In particular, the lawsuit takes issue with the claims they contain “Natural Defense Dual Prebiotics” and that they “act like breast milk.”
Specifically, the class action lawsuit states: “Enfamil’s ‘Natural Defense Dual Prebiotics’ do not provide health benefits as represented and certainly are not ‘proven’ to do so. Moreover, there is not competent and reliable scientific evidence supporting the Misrepresentation, and any purported link between immune response and prebiotics in the Mislabeled Products is entirely speculative.”
The lawsuit claims, “experts agree that breast milk is immeasurably superior to baby formula in terms of infant nutrition and other health benefits. Therefore, it is misleading for Defendant to advertise the Mislabeled Products as similar to breast milk when formula cannot provide anywhere near the level of benefits provided by breast milk.”
The Enfamil class action lawsuit is brought on behalf of all U.S. consumers who purchased the mislabeled Enfamil products listed above for personal or household use. It is seeking damages, restitution and more for several alleged violations, including violation of California’s False Advertising Law, Unfair Competition Law, and breach of express and implied warranties.
Being taken for a ride?…Dollar Rent A Car is facing a federal consumer fraud class action lawsuit over allegations that the car rental company cheated customers out of millions of dollars by signing them up for insurance and other services they declined. Oh, the insurance—you know—that endless fine print that needs to be signed in less than 3 seconds—i.e. without reading.
The Dollar Rent A Car lawsuit, entitled Sandra McKinnon v. Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Inc. d/b/a Dollar Rent a Car, et al., Case No. 12-cv-4457, claims: “Over the last four years Dollar has implemented a systematic program nationwide through which its employees and agents illegally dupe customers into signing up for collision damage waiver (‘CDW’), car insurance and other added services that consumers have specifically declined. This is not an isolated incident with one consumer, but rather a systematic pattern of conduct that has occurred at a number of Dollar locations located throughout the United States.”
“Dollar has received multiple complaints about these issues but incentivizes its employees to make such sales, even by illegal means. If employees fail to obtain an average 30 per day upsales of additional options for three months they may be terminated and not eligible for unemployment,” the lawsuit claims. “Employees are thus incentivized to take advantage of the customers’ irritation, long lines, and misleading or high pressure sales tactics, by just telling them to tap certain lines to decline coverage when it may have the opposite result, or simply forge their signature.”
The class action lawsuit is brought on behalf of Dollar customers who paid for CDW, insurance and other products from Dollar that they specifically declined or did not authorize during the past four years. It is seeking actual, compensatory, statutory and exemplary damages and an injunction barring Dollar from continuing this alleged scheme.
And the subprime saga continues. This week Citigroup agreed to a securities class action settlement involving a $590 million payout to shareholders who alleged they had been misled about the bank’s exposure to subprime mortgage debt before the financial crisis.
Filed in November 2007, the lawsuit contends that Citigroup together with some of its former senior executives and directors failed to disclose the bank’s huge holdings in securities known as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) that were tied to mortgage securities until November 2007, when it took a multibillion-dollar write-down on the CDOs. Citigroup later wrote down the CDOs by tens of billions of dollars more.
According to the lawsuit, Citigroup had previously tried to hide the deteriorating value of its holdings through improper accounting practices. “Citigroup used inflated, unreliable and unsupportable marks to keep its CDO-related quasi-Ponzi scheme alive and to give the appearance of a healthy asset base,” the lawsuit states.
The plaintiffs included pension funds in Colorado, Ohio and Illinois. The lawsuit was led by former employees and directors of Automated Trading Desk who received Citigroup shares when they sold the electronic trading firm to the bank in July 2007. The proposed settlement, which was given preliminary approval by Judge Sidney Stein of the U.S. District Court in New York, covers investors who bought Citi shares from Feb. 26, 2007, through April 18, 2008. Shares of Citigroup traded as high as $55 in the summer of 2007. By spring of 2008, its stock price had tumbled by half.
Ok—that’s it for this week—see you at the bar!
Are your text messages being traced–by your own hand, so to speak? Ten years ago this would have been the stuff of a James Bond film. Today, sadly, it seems to be business as usual–or more accurately—if you can get away with it…
A group of consumers filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit this week, alleging that smartphone manufacturers HTC Corporation, HTC America, Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd use software developed by Carrier IQ, Inc. (“CIQ”) that illegally intercepts incoming text messages and captures users’ key strokes—including those used to compose email and text messages or to dial numbers—without consumers’ knowledge or permission. The lawsuit asks the court to award damages under the Federal Wiretap Act, and prevent companies from including similar software in future smartphones.
The back story—in mid-November, software developer Trevor Eckhart published a video blog illustrating the operation of the CIQ software recording keystrokes, including information sent to secure websites using HTTPS security protocols used in e-commerce and other security-sensitive sites.
After Eckhart published his discovery and documents he found on CIQ’s website, CIQ accused him of copyright violations and threatened legal actions unless he capitulated to the company’s demands. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a public-interest digital rights watchdog stepped in to defend Eckhart and CIQ later apologized to Eckhart and rescinded its demands.
According to CIQ, its software is embedded on smartphones to allow the company to collect data for the benefit of cellular carriers and device manufacturers, which is important to improving customer experience, such as logging information related to dropped calls. CIQ says its program does not log keystrokes or intercept messages and it does not store or resell the information.
The lawsuit alleges that, in reality, the program does record keystrokes and the content of messages, and could transmit the information to third parties, possibly including information sent to secure websites using HTTPS security protocols used in e-commerce and other security-sensitive sites such as banking.
The complaint was filed on behalf of four smartphone users and names smartphone manufacturers HTC and Samsung as defendants along with CIQ. The lawsuit could be amended to include other smartphone manufacturers that embed the CIQ software on their devices.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses the companies of violating the Federal Wiretap Act and California’s Unfair Business Practice Act. The Federal Wiretap Act prohibits the unauthorized interception or illegal use of electronic communications.
Could this be a Christmas Bonus? Borders Group Inc has agreed to settle an employment class action lawsuit brought by 198 former employees over Borders’ alleged violations of the Worker Adjustment Retraining and Notification (WARN) Act.
Borders, unfortunately, is in the last stages of liquidation, but has agreed to pay $240,000 as settlement to the former employees who claim they were laid off without sufficient notice, violating federal regulations. After legal fees are deducted, reports indicate that each plaintiff could receive $797. The lawsuit was filed by former employees of Borders’ Ann Arbor headquarters, led by an employee named Jared Pinsker. According to the settlement filing, the parties agreed to settle their dispute to avoid a protracted and costly legal battle.
Borders, which finished closing its stores and liquidating its inventory in September, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February. The company converted its case into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy liquidation in July. A U.S. bankruptcy judge in Manhattan must approve the settlement. Fingers crossed on this one.
Citigroup Settlement Update. Here’s an update on a proposed settlement we wrote about in late October, involving Citigroup and allegations of investor fraud. Judge Jed Rakoff, of the infamous New York Southern District, has rejected a proposed $285M settlement offered by Citigroup to end an civil complaint brought by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) over allegations that they defrauded investors through highly risky mortgage-backed investments. The specific transaction referred by the SEC involved a $1 billion portfolio of mortgage-related investments. (Anyone seen “Margin Call”?)
According to a report by Forbes, “Rakoff is a critic of the custom that allows firms to use their pocketbook to settle charges rather than admitting guilt, and said there is a public interest in finding out the truth.” Consequently, Rakoff has scheduled a trial, for July 16, 2012. However, the SEC and Citi could bring a settlement to the table prior to that, again pending judge’s approval, which, if approved would keep the case out of court. Me thinks an example may be made here.
Ok–That’s enough for this week. See you at the bar.