Blog : CERG

Minami Tamaki Investigating E-Cigarette Makers and Retailers for Allegedly Marketing to Minors

Minami Tamaki Investigating E-Cigarette Makers and Retailers for Allegedly Marketing to Minors

Minami Tamaki’s Consumer and Employee Rights Group is investigating claims that e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers are illegally marketing vaping products to minors.

On July 24, 2018, the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced that her office had opened an investigation into e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc. (“Juul”) and online e-cigarette retailers that sell Juul and Juul-compatible products.

San Francisco-based Juul controls over two-third of the nearly $2 billion U.S. e-cigarette market, according to industry reports.  The company is raising $1.2 billion in funding at an estimated valuation of $15 billion.

Juul vaporizers deliver flavored nicotine, derived from tobacco, through interchangeable pods.  The nicotine pods are available in numerous flavors, such as mango, fruit medley, and crème brulee. Due to their sleek design, Juul devices resemble a USB flash drive and can easily be concealed by underage users.  Users can personalize Juul devices with wraps or “skins,” and decorate them with an array of designs, colors, and images.

Juul has faced increased scrutiny as its products have gained popularity and high schools around the country have reported a rapid increase in their use.  According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Surgeon General, e-cigarette use has increased 900 percent among U.S. high school students from 2011 to 2015.  In June 2018, the city of San Francisco passed an initiative banning flavored tobacco, including Juul pods.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s investigation will look into whether Juul and online retailers have violated consumer protection statutes and e-cigarette regulations by failing to prevent minors from purchasing their products.  Attorney General Healey stating that “juuling and vaping have become an epidemic in our schools with products that seem targeted to get young people hooked on nicotine.”

E-cigarettes have been marketed as helpful in assisting individuals to cut down on smoking.  However, health and anti-tobacco critics argue that their popularity is leading more young individuals to become hooked on nicotine, rather than reducing the purchase of traditional cigarettes.

Individuals interested in receiving more information about Minami Tamaki’s investigation may contact us through our online form. We look forward to speaking with you.

Minami Tamaki Protecting the Elderly against Undue Influence

Minami Tamaki Protecting the Elderly against Undue Influence

Minami Tamaki’s Consumer and Employee Rights Group represent clients in trust and estate litigation matters, including cases involving financial elder abuse.  Fueled by the aging baby boomer generation, dramatic growth in the elderly population is expected over the next decade.  The increasing size of the elderly population, and the wealth that this population controls, has led to increased concerns of elder abuse.

Elder abuse extends beyond physical abuse and neglect, and often takes the form of financial abuse.  One of the most frequent causes of financial elder abuse is the use of undue influence.

Definition of Undue Influence

A testamentary instrument can be invalidated if it was the product of undue influence.  When an elderly, ill individual makes significant changes to his or her estate plan, questions of whether the changes were the result of “undue influence” may arise.

Under California law, undue influence is defined as excessive persuasion that causes another person to act or refrain from acting by overcoming that person’s free will and results in inequity.  California Welfare and Institutions Code § 15610.70.  “Undue influence is pressure brought to bear directly on the testamentary act, sufficient to overcome the testator’s free will, amounting in effect to coercion destroying the testator’s free agency.” Rice v. Clark, 28 Cal.4th 89, 96 (2002).  In California undue influence may be proven by circumstantial evidence.  Lintz v. Lintz, 222 Cal.App.4th 1346, 1354-1355 (2014).

Elements Necessary to Prove Undue Influence

Undue influence is proved by establishing (1) the wrongdoer was in a confidential relationship with the decedent, (2) the wrongdoer actively participated in procuring the Trust or Will, and (3) the wrongdoer unduly benefitted from the new document.

Confidential Relationship

There must be a confidential relationship between the party making the will and the person alleged to have exerted undue influence. Estate of Goetz, 253 Cal.App.2d 107, 115-116 (1967).

According to Estate of Rugani, 108 Cal.App.2d 624, 630 (1952), a confidential relationship exists whenever trust and confidence are placed by one person in the integrity and fidelity of another.

Active Participation

There must be activity on the part of the beneficiary in procurement of the will. Estate of Goetz, 253 Cal.App.2d at 115-116.

Active participation cannot be inferred when a beneficiary simply accompanies the testator to the attorney’s office. There must be evidence that the testator went there at the beneficiary’s instigation or request, or evidence that the testator was not acting in accord with his or her own desire. Estate of Lingenfelter, 38 Cal.2d 571, 586 (1952).

Undue Profit

There must be undue profit to the beneficiary. Estate of Goetz, 253 Cal.App.2d at 115-116.

Undue profit can be determined by taking a variety of factors into consideration. The court will evaluate the relationship between the decedent and the beneficiary. They will also consider the dispositions in previous wills and other past expressions of the decedent’s intent. Estate of Sarabia, 221 Cal.App.3d 599, 607 (1990).

Burden Of Proof

In most types of litigation, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof.  However, a plaintiff challenging a testamentary instrument on grounds of undue influence can in some cases shift burden of proof to the defendant when a presumption of undue influence arises.

A presumption of undue influence arises when the plaintiff shows: a confidential relationship existed between the testator and person alleged to have exerted undue influence, there was active participation of the person alleged to have exerted undue influence in procuring the instrument’s preparation or execution, and the person alleged to have exerted undue influence would benefit unduly from the instrument. California Probate Code § 21380 et seq., Rice v. Clark, 28 Cal.4th at 96-97.

Elder Abuse Claims

In undue influence matters, the legal claims alleging Elder Abuse often arise as a corollary issue.  This is important because elder abuse claims are given jury trials, allow for punitive damages, and allow for recovery of attorney’s fees to prevailing plaintiffs.

How We Can Help

Minami Tamaki LLP works to ensure that the rights of all elders are protected.  As California’s population ages, the threat of elder abuse will become an increasingly important issue across the state.

If you or a loved one have concerns about undue influence or financial elder abuse, you may contact us through our online form or call us at 415-788-9000 to set up a free consultation.

As Minimum Wage Increases in San Francisco, Wage Theft Persists

As Minimum Wage Increases in San Francisco, Wage Theft Persists

Minami Tamaki’s Consumer and Employee Rights Group represents low-wage workers in matters to recover unpaid wages and combat wage theft.  We have represented workers at popular Bay Area restaurants who alleged that they were paid less than $4.00 per hour.  While state and local government have worked to improve labor conditions and increase the minimum wage in recent years, they continue to face resistance from employers who underpay workers and attempt to evade their responsibilities under the law.

On July 1, 2018, San Francisco increased its minimum wage to $15.00 per hour, a $1.00 increase that represented the last step in a four-year process to increase the city’s minimum wage.  Further increases in the minimum wage will be dictated by a metric of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Consumer Price Index.

Although San Francisco has been preparing for the $15.00 minimum wage for the last four years, some employers have failed to comply with the required gradual increases, and others have underpaid workers in other ways in order to “offset” the minimum wage increases.

On June 7, 2018, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office announced that it had issued cited Kome Japanese Seafood & Buffet and the Rangoon Ruby Burmese Cuisine chain for more than $10 million in wage violations and penalties.  The violations cited included failure to pay minimum wage, overtime, and split shift premiums.  Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and the Chinese Progressive Association represented many of the affected employees.

On July 2, 2018, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Labor Commissioner had fined the award-winning San Francisco restaurant La Taqueria approximately $600,000 for labor violations, penalties, and other amounts owed to over 30 employees.  The workers who filed claims against La Taqueria were represented by Young Workers United and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.

Restaurant owners sometimes pay workers at hourly rates far below the minimum wage on the rationale that the servers earn additional compensation from tips left by customers.  However, the state of California requires restaurants to pay employees the full minimum wage for every hour worked in addition to tips earned.

Low-wage immigrant workers and people of color are particularly at risk of being subjected to wage theft.  Immigrant workers in service industries, such as restaurant, janitorial, domestic services, agriculture, and manufacturing are among the most exploited workers in the Bay Area labor market.

Employees may be unaware that they have the right to fair wages even if they are undocumented.  The law protects the right to full payment of wages regardless of immigration status.  Further, an employer’s failure to keep adequate pay and time records is itself a violation of the law and is not a bar to an employee’s claims of underpayment.

Employees who believe they have not received the full amount owed for their work may set up a free consultation with Minami Tamaki by contacting us at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form.

Minami Tamaki Investigating False Advertising in Sustainable Seafood Industry

Minami Tamaki Investigating False Advertising in Sustainable Seafood Industry

Minami Tamaki LLP is investigating claims that seafood distributors are profiting off of consumers by falsely advertising their products as locally caught and sustainable.

On June 13, the Associated Press (AP) reported that distributor Sea to Table is mislabeling what it markets as “traceable, sustainable, wild-caught American seafood.”

Sea to Table has been praised as “revolutionary” for its “guilt-free” seafood options, and sells seafood to celebrity chefs, fine dining restaurants, and fast-casual chains around the country. Sea to Table claims that its products are directly traceable to a U.S. dock – and sometimes to the exact boat that brought the seafood in.

However, the AP investigation found numerous examples of Sea to Table selling seafood that did not come from its advertised locations. The AP also found Sea to Table offering species that were illegal to catch, out of season, or farmed.

Further, reporters traced the company’s supply chain to migrant fishermen in foreign countries who described labor abuses, including individuals who received little as $1.50 a day for 22-hour shifts.

The global seafood industry has come under scrutiny in recent years for exploiting workers who toil on international waters under abhorrent working conditions.  While Sea to Table markets itself as an alternative to purchasing seafood that is the product of abusive foreign labor conditions, the AP investigation revealed that some of Sea to Table’s suppliers are engaged in this same worker exploitation.

Conscientious consumers are increasingly paying a premium for local, sustainable food.  These consumers make buying decisions seeking to avoid indirectly supporting human rights violations in the global supply chain.  Companies that prey on consumers’ good intentions for their own profit may be in violation of federal law and subject to criminal charges.  The Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are charged with enforcing laws outlawing mislabeling of seafood.

If you have purchased from Sea to Table or wish to obtain more information about seafood marketed as local and sustainable, you may contact us online or call us at 415-788-9000 to set up a free consultation.

Minami Tamaki Investigating ‘Massive’ Data Breach at Zippy’s Restaurants 

Minami Tamaki Investigating ‘Massive’ Data Breach at Zippy’s Restaurants 

Minami Tamaki LLP is investigating reports that the popular Hawai‘i Zippy’s Restaurants chain suffered a data breach that has compromised customer privacy.  Zippy’s announced on April 27, 2018, that the data breach affected all Zippy’s locations, as well as other affiliated restaurants.  Local reports have described the data breach as “massive.”

Zippy’s stated that the information compromised in the data breach involved credit cards and debit cards used between November 23, 2017, and March 29, 2018.  In a statement posted on its website, Zippy’s stated that it learned of the data breach on March 9, 2018, and that information impacted may include the cardholders’ names, card numbers, expiration dates, and security codes.  The Hawai‘i Office of Consumer Protection has announced that it has opened an investigation into the data breach.

Zippy’s is among the most popular restaurant chains in Hawai‘i, and has been a dining institution for both locals and tourists for decades.  Consumers in California and throughout the United States who visited Hawai‘i may be impacted by this data breach, including those who visited the islands over the holidays in late 2017.

If you dined at Zippy’s Restaurants, Napoleon’s Bakery, Kahala Sushi, or Pearl City Sushi between November 23, 2017, and March 29, 2018, and wish to discuss this matter, you may contact us at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form.  We look forward to the opportunity to speak with you.

Minami Tamaki Files Class Action Lawsuit Alleging Apple Unlawfully Slowed Down Older iPhones

Minami Tamaki Files Class Action Lawsuit Alleging Apple Unlawfully Slowed Down Older iPhones

The consumer protection attorneys at Minami Tamaki have filed a class action lawsuit alleging that Apple Inc. harmed its customers by releasing software updates that slowed down millions of older iPhone models and reduced their performance.

In December 2017, Apple released a public statement admitting that it released iOS updates that slowed down older iPhone models. According to reports, these slowdowns occur when an iPhone battery reaches an unspecified point of low health, and can be fixed if a user replaces the iPhone battery. Apple publicly apologized for not clearly communicating that its iOS updates throttled the speed of older iPhones.

Minami Tamaki’s lawsuit alleges that Apple slowed down iPhone 6, 6s, SE, and 7 models in order to force consumers to upgrade to newer – and more expensive – iPhone models. On April 25, 2018, the case was consolidated with claims filed by consumers making similar allegations in the Northern District of California before Judge Edward J. Davila. The consolidated case is In Re: Apple Inc. Device Performance Litigation (MDL No. 2827).

If you have experienced slowdowns with your iPhone and would like to discuss this matter, you may contact us at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form. We look forward to the opportunity to speak with you.

Did Cambridge Analytica Steal Your Facebook Data? Here’s How You Can Find Out.

Did Cambridge Analytica Steal Your Facebook Data? Here’s How You Can Find Out.

Minami Tamaki LLP announced earlier this month that it was investigating allegations that Cambridge Analytica improperly acquired private information from tens of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge or consent.

In response to public outcry regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook posted information on users’ news feeds notifying users of whether their personal data was accessed.

Facebook users can also check whether their personal data was obtained by Cambridge Analytica by visiting this Facebook page.  

Users who visit this support page while logged in to Facebook will receive a message regarding whether their personal information was shared with Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica continue to face scrutiny in the wake of this data exposure.  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called to Capitol Hill to testify in front of Congress regarding Cambridge Analytica, privacy practices, and government regulation.

If your personal data was accessed by Cambridge Analytica and you wish to discuss your legal options, you may contact us online or call us at 415-788-9000 to set up a free consultation.

Ninth Circuit Rules That Prior Salaries Cannot Justify Gender Pay Gaps

Ninth Circuit Rules That Prior Salaries Cannot Justify Gender Pay Gaps

Today is Equal Pay Day, and it follows yesterday’s decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Rizo v. Yovino, which ruled that employers cannot rely on employees’ past salaries to justify paying women less than men.  

The employee in Rizo was a female math consultant for the Fresno County Office of Education who was paid less than new male hires with less education and experience.  The County’s reasoning was that her pay was based on her prior salary.

Under the federal Equal Pay Act, employers generally cannot pay men and women differently for performing the same work, with certain exceptions.  Previously, the Court’s decisions had held that an employee’s past salary was a “factor other than sex” that employers could use to justify pay gaps between male and female employees.   

The Court’s ruling in Rizo this week overturned those decisions, holding instead that gender wage gaps cannot be justified by an employee’s prior salary alone, or even in combination with other factors.  The majority opinion, written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt before his death last month, recognized that the gender wage gap had existed for decades and continues to exist today, with the gap costing women in the U.S. over $840 billion a year.

“If money talks, the message to women costs more than ‘just’ billions: women are told they are not worth as much as men,” wrote Judge Reinhardt. “Allowing prior salary to justify a wage differential perpetuates this message, entrenching in salary systems an obvious means of discrimination.”  Thus, allowing employers to consider prior salaries would be inconsistent with the Equal Pay Act.

At the state level, California’s Equal Pay Act had already prohibited employers from justifying pay differences based on sex, race, or ethnicity solely on the grounds of prior salary.   

Minami Tamaki LLP works to ensure that the rights of all workers are protected and that workers are treated fairly.  Both federal and California law mandate equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. If you believe you have experienced unequal pay or gender discrimination, we welcome the opportunity to discuss your workplace issues with you.  You may contact us at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form.

Minami Tamaki Investigating Facebook for Alleged Privacy Violations

Minami Tamaki Investigating Facebook for Alleged Privacy Violations

News outlets have recently reported that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm, improperly acquired private information from approximately 50 million Facebook users’ profiles without users’ knowledge or consent.

Minami Tamaki LLP is investigating how Facebook users’ private information was used by Cambridge Analytica, and whether Facebook failed to take reasonable measures to secure users’ private information.

The New York Times and The Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica acquired this data by partnering with researcher Aleksandr Kogan to create a Facebook application called “Thisisyourdigitallife.” The app administered a “personality” test, and paid U.S. voters who installed the app to answer a series of questions about themselves. Approximately 270,000 individuals installed the app.

Kogan was able to collect data from approximately 50 million Facebook “friends” of these 270,000 individuals, even though these other users had not agreed to connect to the app. Kogan then provided the private information from these users to Cambridge Analytica. The New York Times has reported that Cambridge Analytica used the data to construct psychological profiles of the users and determine messaging to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook knew of Kogan and Cambridge Analytica harvesting information from millions of users as far back as 2015. However, Facebook did not inform users at the time that their information had been accessed in this manner. Facebook has also stated that Kogan gained access to user’s private information “through the proper channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time.” Facebook noted that Kogan’s sharing of this data with Cambridge Analytica, an unauthorized third party, was prohibited at the time.

Government authorities, including the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, and a coalition of state Attorneys General, have reportedly launched investigations into Facebook’s privacy practices.

Minami Tamaki attorneys have experience representing individuals who have been harmed by privacy breaches. If you believe your private information was gathered by Cambridge Analytica without your knowledge or consent, you may contact us online or call us at 415-788-9000 to set up a free consultation.