MDL Request For California Wine Arsenic Lawsuits Denied

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The JPML rejected an MDL request to consolidate actions against California wine companies for high levels of arsenic in their products.

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - The bid for a series of lawsuits centered on high arsenic levels in California wines to be centralized into multidistrict litigation was rejected by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on June 5. The order denying transfer was issued by the JPML after the panel found that the inclusion of only two actions in the motion to centralize was not sufficient for certification.

A plaintiff from only one was requesting for the two total cases to be consolidated. The plaintiff that moved for centralization‘s action was based in the Middle District of Louisiana, where they requested the actions to be centralized. The other action was based in the Northern District of Florida and also supported centralization in the Middle District of Louisiana, although they preferred centralization in their own district. All defendants involved in the lawsuits opposed centralization.

The plaintiffs named 28 total wine distributors and producers as defendants in the motion to centralize. The claims against the defendants focused on the high levels of arsenic in the wine made and sold by the beverage manufacturers, which they claim was a violation of state law. The plaintiffs alleged that the levels of arsenic present in the wine was high enough to warrant the addition of a warning label to the product under California state laws. The

Plaintiffs claimed that in addtion to the circumnavigation of the state‘s laws in relation to arsenic levels, the wine companies benefitted from the process that led to the high levels of arsenic by failing to properly filter their beverages. The allegations state that the money saved by the wine manufacturers that comes from lenient filtration allows them to lower the cost of their product, despite the fact that the increased arsenic levels take a toll of the consumer‘s health.

The defense‘s argument rests on the fact that natural levels of arsenic in the earth‘s soil make it impossible to regulate the amount that ends up in the wine they produce. The levels of arsenic that the plaintiffs are focusing on are not regulate for the wine industry, but are in fact being compared to the allowed levels for drinking water. The defendants have claimed that there‘s nartual arsenic present in grapes, and that other companies in the industry aren‘t worried or surprised by the chemical‘s presence in their product. The arsenic levels presented by the plaintiffs do not exceed any arsenic regulations enacted by countries outside of the U.S.

The JPML rejected the motion to centralize based on the fact that only two actions were included in the transfer motion. While the panel found that the cases did indeed share common questions of fact, the burden of proof for the necessity of centralization grows when the number of actions is small. They found that the two actions did not meet the standard necessary to create an MDL for the pair, and rejected their bid for centralization.

The plaintiffs had claimed that although their current motion only included two actions, there would be related actions in the near future that would be able to join the proposed MDL. The JPML did not view the outstanding related actions, which included much of the same counsel involved in the current motion, to add to the extended viability or prospects necessary to warrant a class certification. The plaintiffs were only able to name two additional related actions that would possibly join the MDL in the future.