Lawyer Who Sued Big Lots Over Coffee Labeling Has ‘Dubious Modus Operandi,’ Federal Judge Says

A federal judge in Florida has ordered food-labeling lawyer Spencer Sheehan to be jointly liable with the plaintiff for his opponent’s statutory attorney fees and costs as a sanction for litigation conduct that included filing the repeat claim. Sheehan has filed over 500 consumer suits over allegedly false and misleading labels between January 2020 and April 2023, targeting claims about olive oil in mayonnaise, vanilla in ice cream and other products, wash load numbers for laundry detergent, lime in tortilla chips, fudge in cookies, fruit in toaster pastries, and other labeling claims.

Presnell tossed Sheehan’s case against Big Lots earlier this year after finding it would be “patently implausible that any reasonable consumer would be deceived by the product’s label.” Sheehan had previously filed a nearly identical suit in federal court for the Western District of New York that was dismissed because it was “based on a selective reading of the brewing instructions.” Presnell disagreed with Sheehan’s argument, stating that the frivolity Sheehan and his enablers inflict upon the judiciary and his defendants, carefully crafting his complaints so that when a judge in one district or division rules against him, he can ‘in good faith,’ refile the same or similar action elsewhere in hopes of achieving success.

Sheehan had also failed to apply for pro hac vice status, which allows out-of-state attorneys to participate in a suit in a jurisdiction in which they aren’t licensed. A PACER database indicates that Sheehan appeared in 29 cases in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, but he filed pro hac vice motions in only two out of 24 cases in which he was directed to file them.

Presnell said requiring Sheehan to pay attorney fees would have a deterrent effect that will impose a financial cost for “intransigence.” The judge is also considering whether to sanction another lawyer working with Sheehan in the case.

Read More @ ABA Journal

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