MDL Request Granted For Herbal Supplements Lawsuits

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The JPML has combined four dockets into multidistrict litigation against herbal supplement manufacturers whose products allegedly repeatedly failed to contain ingredients listed on the labels.

Friday, June 26, 2015 - Plaintiffs who filed lawsuits in six actions seeking the consolidation of four separate dockets relating to allegations made against herbal supplement manufacturers had their cases centralized into multidistrict litigation on June 9. The herbal supplement lawsuits, which name GNC Corp., Target Corp. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Walgreens as the primary defendants, were transferred to the Northern District of Illinois federal court before District Judge John W. Darrah by the Judicial panel on Multidistrict Litigation. The decision followed argument made before the JPML in Minneapolis May 28.

The lawsuits claim that the four herbal supplement manufacturers replaced key ingredients in their products with assorted fillers, causing the supplements to lack materials listed on the label. herbal supplements are historically free of FDA regulation, with the agency only taking action when problems are reported with the products. The product lines that allegedly contained fillers in place of key ingredients are Wal-Mart‘s "Spring Valley Supplements," Target‘s "Up and Up," Walgreens‘ "Finest Nutrition," and GNC‘s "Herbal Plus." The motions to centralize the lawsuits was originally filed in February by plaintiffs filing actions against separate manufacturers nationwide.

At the time of the transfer order, there were 35 herbal supplement actions pending before the JPML. The panel mentioned the potential of 30 related actions to be added to the proceedings in the future as tag-along actions. 28 of the 35 actions supported the eventual decision that transferred each of the four dockets together in a single district. 15 of the 35 also supported the transfer of each individual retailers‘ case to separate districts. The final transfer to Illinois was chosen from a nationwide list of requested districts by the plaintiffs including but not limited to Arkansas, California, Florida and New York.

The JPML chose to centralize the lawsuits together into one MDL based on the fact that almost all the cases will be relying on similar evidence related to the supplements in making their case against the manufacturers. Though the plaintiffs filed claims against separate retailers that manufactured their supplements under different product lines, the JPML ruled that the significant facts shared among the dockets overwhelmed the potential differences they may arise between them.

The plaintiff‘s case against the herbal supplement manufacturers took off after an investigation into the contents of the supplements made by New York‘s attorney general, which determined after DNA barcode testing that the ingredients listed on the product labels did not match the constitution of the supplements inside. It was then determined that the manufacturers had replaced a handful of key ingredients with fillers, with 79 percent of all the products tested containing none of the key ingredient listed.

This investigation resulted in a cease and desist order from the attorney general‘s office in February claiming that the supplements were misbranded and contained unlisted ingredients. Some of the ingredients found in the supplements that were being used as fillers were discovered to be allergens that could possibly put those taking them unknowingly in danger. Ingredients discovered in place of those listed on the bottles included rice, wheat and crushed houseplants in addition to other assorted fillers discovered.