Environmental Group Wins Key Step in Battle Against Big Plastic

Federal Court rules landmark case should proceed in California State Court

February 23, 2021 (Berkeley, CA) — Earth Island Institute, represented by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, received a favorable ruling today in its landmark lawsuit against 10 major food, beverage, and consumer goods companies for the nuisance created by their plastic packaging, including polluting California waterways with plastic trash and touting products as recyclable when they’re not.

Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted Earth Island Institute’s motion and ruled that the lawsuit belongs in state rather than federal court. This decision means that the lawsuit against the companies can proceed toward its merits rather than facing delays involved with attempts to change the venue. Similar motions have been used by Big Pharma and Big Oil to try to delay or derail lawsuits against them. Judge Gilliam’s decision prevents Big Plastic from attempting the same.

“We are thrilled to be one step closer to a full consideration of the merits of our groundbreaking case” said Sumona Majumdar, Earth Island Institute’s general counsel. “Our lawsuit is about the harm caused by the defendants’ plastic products here in California, and Judge Gilliam rightly saw through their attempts to recharacterize our complaint in an effort to cause delay and obtain what they perceive as a more favorable venue in federal court.”

The lawsuit was filed a year ago, in February 2020, in San Mateo County Superior Court in California, against Crystal Geyser Water Company, The Clorox Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsico, Inc., Nestlé USA, Inc., Mars, Incorporated, Danone North America, Mondelez International, Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company, and The Procter & Gamble Company. The case alleged violations of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, public nuisance, breach of express warranty, defective product liability, negligence, and failure to warn of the harms caused by their plastic packaging. The defendants, however, sought to remove the case to federal court under various theories, including federal common law and maritime jurisdiction.The ruling today granted Earth Island’s motion and remanded the action back to California state court.

Mark Molumphy, a partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy (CPM), lead counsel for Earth Island, said, “Today’s order is an important step in holding Big Plastic accountable for the impacts of their products in California. Plastic pollution is an environmental disaster that is getting worse with each passing day — this ruling gives the green light to move forward without further delay.”

“We look forward to presenting our case in state court,” said Noorjahan Rahman, the CPM attorney who gave oral argument on the Earth Island motion that was the subject of today’s ruling.

For almost forty years, Earth Island Institute, a leading nonprofit environmental organization based in Berkeley, California, has been developing programs and supporting projects that counteract threats to the planet’s biological and cultural diversity. Earth Island also plays a leading role in efforts to fight plastic pollution and protect our oceans, coasts, and marine life. Earth Island has filed this case in its own right and on behalf of the following sponsored projects:

● Plastic Pollution Coalition, founded in 2009, is a growing global alliance of more than 1,200 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 75 countries working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment. The companies in the lawsuit are held accountable by the coalition, which serves as an industry watchdog, driving corporate change on single-use plastic. Together with members, Plastic Pollution Coalition has created and amplified thousands of petitions, collecting millions of signatures asking these companies to change their polluting practices.

● The International Marine Mammal Project is one of the leading groups fighting to protect dolphins, whales, and the ocean environment from plastic pollution. The ingestion of plastic packaging produced by the companies in this lawsuit often impacts the health of marine life. IMMP is currently developing a comprehensive report on these impacts and compiling a record of dolphins and whales that are dying from plastic ingestion and washing up on shores around the world.

● Shark Stewards works on the front lines of marine cleanup efforts and observes firsthand the ubiquitous presence of plastics that are trashing our shorelines and ocean environments. The organization aims to help restore ocean health by organizing and participating in cleanup programs, by saving sharks from overfishing and the shark fin trade, and by protecting critical marine habitat through the establishment of marine protected areas and shark sanctuaries.

● 1000 Fountains is building a network of one thousand drinking fountains throughout San Francisco to provide consumers with alternatives to single-use plastic bottles. By providing San Franciscans with more drinking fountains, almost 300 million single-use plastic water bottles that are purchased annually can be eliminated, saving consumers more than $500 million per year.

Additional information about this lawsuit can be found here.

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