Blog : CERG

Minami Tamaki Investigating Health Risks of Toxic Dog Food

Minami Tamaki Investigating Health Risks of Toxic Dog Food

Minami Tamaki LLP is investigating claims that pet food companies are manufacturing, advertising, and selling dog food that contains dangerous levels of heavy metals and toxins throughout the United States.

Several consumers have recently filed claims against Champion Petfoods, the makers of Acana and Orijen dog food, alleging that the company misrepresents and fails to fully disclose the presence of heavy metals and toxins known to pose health risks to humans and animals. These ingredients include arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, and/or Bisphenol A (“BPA”).

Consumers allege that Champion Petfoods has created a niche by selling dog food marketed as “biologically appropriate” and made of higher-quality ingredients. The complaints state that Champion Petfoods charges a premium for its products based on claims that they consist of fresh meat and vegetables.

Purchasers of Acana and Orijen are not alone in raising concerns about ingredients in popular brands of dog food recently. In August 2018, a New York pet owner alleged that the dog food brand Nutrish marketed as “natural” actually contained the chemical glyphosate, an herbicide used in weed-killer brands. Earlier this year, another New York dog owner filed a lawsuit alleging that the Kibbles ‘n Bits dog food she purchased for her dog contained pentobarbital, a controlled substance used to euthanize animals.  

Illnesses and even deaths linked to consumption of pet food are unfortunately not a new issue in the United States.  While some companies have sought to market themselves as an alternative to purchasing pet food that contains potentially harmful ingredients, recent allegations have raised questions about the validity of these health claims.

Conscientious pet owners are increasingly paying a premium for “fresh,” “natural” food for their pets.  These consumers expect to receive a premium product, and make their purchasing decisions to ensure that the food they provide to their beloved pets is safe to consume.  Companies that prey on consumers’ health concerns for their own profit may be in violation of state and/or federal law.

For more information, you may contact us online or call us at 415-788-9000 to set up a free consultation.

Employee No-Poach Agreements Face Legal Pressure

Employee No-Poach Agreements Face Legal Pressure

Minami Tamaki is investigating “no-poach” and wage-fixing agreements between companies in numerous large industries.

A no-poach agreement involves companies agreeing not to compete for each other’s employees, such as by not soliciting or hiring them. A wage-fixing agreement involves an agreement regarding employees’ salary or other terms of compensation. No-poach and wage-fixing agreements that are not reasonably necessary to any separate, legitimate business collaboration between companies (known as “naked” agreements) are unlawful.

No-poach agreements have come under increased scrutiny in recent years, as critics argue that they rob employees of labor market competition, and deprive them of job opportunities and the ability to negotiate better terms of employment. Consumers have recently filed class actions against companies such as Burger King alleging that no-poach agreements illegally prevent employees from being hired or solicited from other franchises of the same brand. Some U.S. policy experts contend that no-poach and wage-fixing agreements have contributed to the low rate of wage growth in recent years in an otherwise robust economy.

The federal government has publicized its intention to target illegal agreements among competitors. In October 2016, the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Federal Trade Commission issued policy guidance warning that naked no-poach and wage-fixing agreements among companies would be treated as criminal antitrust violations.

This guidance followed on the heels of the DOJ filing civil enforcement actions against technology companies that allegedly entered into no-poach agreements with competitors, including Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, and Pixar.

Since issuing its guidance in October 2016, the DOJ has continued to demonstrate its willingness to pursue no-poach agreements. In April 2018, the Antitrust Division filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against rail equipment suppliers Knorr-Bremse AG and Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corp., and with it simultaneously filed a proposed civil settlement. The Complaint alleged that these companies and a third company, Faiveley, reached naked no-poach agreements in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.

In July 2018, Attorneys General from 11 states formed a coalition to investigate no-poach agreements in franchise contracts of fast food chains, including Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Five Guys, Little Caesars, Panera Bread, Popeyes, Wendy’s. Fast food chains, including Arby’s, Auntie Anne’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Carl’s Jr., Cinnabon, Jimmy John’s, and McDonald’s, also agreed in July 2018 to cease restricting individuals seeking employment from other branches of the same chain for higher pay.

This practice is not limited to fast-food chains. Jiffy Lube, H&R Block, and Anytime Fitness are among the other companies that have been reported to have had no-poach agreements in their franchisee contracts.

All business should be aware of developments in the law regarding no-poach and wage-fixing agreements, and should review their contracts for any such provisions. Franchised business, many of which have historically utilized contracts with no-poach provisions, should be particularly vigilant. Businesses and employees affected by no-poach and/or wage fixing agreements should consult with an attorney even if such provisions have not been enforced in the past.

For more information on our investigation and the current state of the law with regarding no-poach agreements, you may contact us online or at 415-788-9000. We look forward to the opportunity to speak with you.

Minami Tamaki Investigating Facebook Security Breach

Minami Tamaki Investigating Facebook Security Breach

Minami Tamaki LLP is investigating reports that Facebook suffered a data breach that compromised user profiles.  Facebook announced on September 28, 2018, that the security issue affected almost 50 million user accounts.

According to a Facebook security update, attackers exploited a vulnerability in the site’s code that impacted the “View As” feature, which allows users to view their profile as if they were someone else. The vulnerability allowed the attackers to receive access tokens which were used to take over user accounts. Access tokens are digital keys that keep people logged in to Facebook so they don’t need to re-enter their password upon every use.

Users throughout the United States may be impacted by this data breach.  On September 28, Facebook reset access tokens for affected accounts and temporarily turned off the “View As” feature.  The company also reset an additional 40 million accounts that have been subject to a “View As” look-up as a precautionary measure.

Minami Tamaki attorneys have experience representing individuals who have been harmed by privacy breaches.  For more information about this data breach and your legal rights, you may contact us online or call us at 415-788-9000 to set up a free consultation.

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.