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Court Allows Lawsuit Against Starbucks Alleging False Advertisement Of Ethical Cocoa To Proceed

–Class action against Starbucks alleges it misleads consumers with claims of ethically sourced cocoa despite knowledge of child and slave labor —

San Diego, Calif. (May 6, 2021) – In a significant victory for consumers, the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California denied Starbucks’ attempts to dismiss plaintiff’s claims, allowing a nationwide class action to move forward. The lawsuit alleges that one of the world’s largest companies profiteers off misleading claims that its cocoa is “ethically sourced,” while knowingly purchasing cocoa from a system that relies on forced child and slave labor in West Africa.

“This is a significant victory for consumers and is the first case of its kind to proceed past the motion to dismiss stage. From misleading and false claims on packaging to ambiguous programs and certifications, the allegations in the complaint maintain that Starbucks claims its cocoa is ethically sourced while it props up a cocoa production system in West Africa that is built upon the backs of child and slave laborers,” said Helen Zeldes, Partner at Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes, LLP, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff and putative class. “California consumer protection laws can be powerful tools in stopping these deceptive practices and we look forward to litigating these claims.”

The lawsuit alleges that Starbucks profits off the booming market for social and environmentally conscious goods despite its knowledge of child labor and slavery endemic in Côte d’Ivoire cocoa farms, and millions of children on Ivorian cocoa plantations subjected to what the International Labor Organization terms the “Worst Forms of Child Labor,” including trafficking, slavery and exposure to toxic chemicals and hazardous tools.

According to the lawsuit, no companies that source from Cote d’Ivoire, including Starbucks, can claim to be sourcing sustainable or ethical cocoa, as the vast majority of the cocoa sourced in Côte d’Ivoire comes from untraceable farms, in which child and slave labor is a common and widespread practice.

It is alleged that the Starbucks knowingly misleads consumers by conveying an ethical image, inconsistent with what its sourcing practices really are, by claiming its Hot Cocoa Mix products are made with “ethically sourced” cocoa and that it “purchases cocoa that’s grown and traded in an ethical and transparent way.”

Plaintiff Myers is represented by Helen Zeldes, Ben Travis, Paul Hoffman, Catherine Sweetser and John Washington of Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes, LLP.


California-based trial law firm Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes, LLP has earned a reputation for obtaining outstanding results in complex cases involving human rights violations, consumer fraud, employment, civil rights, and class action litigation. The firm has offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Hermosa Beach.


Today, in an appeal brought by SSHHZ and the Offices of John Burton, the Ninth Circuit held for the first time that police officers who cause statements they elicit without the necessary Miranda warnings to be used to criminally prosecute the speaker violate the Fifth Amendment and the officers are liable for damages under civil rights law, regardless of whether they engaged in any other kinds of coercion.

The case involves a plaintiff who was given no Miranda warnings, and asked to sign a false confession.  After he did so, he was prosecuted, and ultimately acquitted.  He sued the officers for violating his Fifth Amendment rights.  The district court found that he could not pursue a claim based on the officers’ failure to Mirandize him unless they engaged in other coercion, and the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court, holding for the first time that these lawsuits are available throughout those states in the Ninth Circuit.

You can see the Ninth Circuit’s opinion here, and the oral argument in the case here.

SSHHZ’s Paul Hoffman, renowned human rights and civil rights litigator, argued Nestle USA v. Doe I and Cargill v.

Doe I – consolidated cases alleging big chocolate knowingly profits from aiding and abetting child slave labor in West Africa – at the Supreme Court today! Listen in here:

SSHHZ files its Supreme Court briefs in Doe v. Nestle and Cargill.

On Wednesday SSHHZ filed briefs in its cases in the U.S. Supreme Court against Nestle and Cargill under the Alien Tort Statute. The agricultural giants argue that corporations cannot be liable for aiding and abetting child slavery – only human beings can – even though international law has forbidden slavery since the 19th century. They also argue that they could not be liable for aiding and abetting the enslavement of foreign children. SSHHZ disagrees, and seeks to hold them accountable on behalf of a class of former child slaves trafficked into the Ivory Coast and who have been pursuing justice against the companies since 2005.

SSHHZ partner Paul Hoffman will argue the case before the Court on December 1. The briefs were written with Terrence Collingsworth of International Rights Advocates, and Catherine Sweetser of UCLA School of Law, co-counsel on the case, and with the UCI and UCLA School of Law clinics.

You can find the Nestle brief here, and the Cargill brief here.

SSHHZ Law Files Petition for Restraining Order – Alleges Unlawful Use of Force by Sheriff’s Department at Protests

LEILA MILLER, Calif., Sept. 21, 2020 – Plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit are seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction to limit the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s use of nonlethal force at protests, claiming it has employed rubber bullets, tear gas and other chemical agents indiscriminately against peaceful protestors, journalists and legal observers in violation of the Constitution.

The petition, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, focuses on protests in recent weeks against police brutality and the shooting of Dijon Kizzee, who was killed by sheriff’s deputies Aug. 31 in Westmont after being flagged for a vehicle code violation while riding his bike. The incident has spurred daily protests in front of the South L.A. sheriff’s station.

In court documents, a group of 13 plaintiffs — including protestors injured at marches against police violence over the summer — claim that the department has been improperly using force to disperse crowds without giving those present sufficient warning and time to obey orders.

“Instead of deploying these weapons in a defensive manner to protect themselves and others, the LASD has been deliberately using less-lethal munitions and chemical agents in an indiscriminate and retaliatory fashion against people engaged in lawful activities, including journalists and legal observers,” a memorandum filed with the petition states.

The Sheriff’s Department has previously said that deputies used less-lethal force in response to protestors who threw rocks and bottles at officials, and not to cause them to disperse.

“The Department does not deploy less lethal weapons against peaceful protestors,” Lt. John Satterfield, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement Tuesday. “The deployment and use of less lethal munitions is guided by strict policy and procedure, in addition to current state and federal law. Every application and use of force is thoroughly documented, investigated, and reviewed at multiple levels throughout the chain of command. The Department is unable to offer further comment, due to pending litigation.”

The application is part of a class-action lawsuit filed Aug. 27 that claims the department engaged in “dangerous, retaliatory abuses,” including unlawful arrests and excessive use of force, at protests in May and June against the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and 18-year-old Andres Guardado in Gardena.

On Sunday, community organizers and family members of those killed by deputies stood outside the South L.A. sheriff’s station to announce another protest in the area next weekend.

“We’ll be quiet, we’ll shut up, as soon as we start seeing some accountability,” said Sequarier McCoy, an aunt of Kizzee, as she called for Sheriff Alex Villanueva to resign.

The petition for a restraining order seeks to stop the department from indiscriminately using nonlethal projectiles such as rubber bullets and pepper balls to disperse and control crowds unless there is a specific and immediate safety threat. It states that before such force is used the department should declare an unlawful assembly and provide clear notice of dispersal orders.

The filing also seeks to stop indiscriminate use of chemical agents such as tear gas and flash grenades to disperse crowds without adequate warning. It says that the weapons should only be used after other efforts to contain crowds have failed.

A memorandum submitted with the petition states that on Aug. 25, deputies fired rubber bullets, pepper balls and tear gas into a crowd after about 100 demonstrators marched peacefully in downtown L.A. to protest the police killing of Anthony McClain in Pasadena. It alleges that officials used force without warning or dispersal orders and that two legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild were targeted with a tear gas grenade despite following directions from deputies to move across the street.

In another incident on Sept. 5, 250 to 300 people went to the South L.A. sheriff’s station to protest the killing of Kizzee, 29. The filing describes people “milling around” listening to speeches when deputies began firing into the crowd with rubber bullets, pepper balls, flash bangs and tear gas grenades.

“Again, no warning or dispersal order had been given, and even as people retreated and ran away from the location, LASD deputies chased them and shot at them with rubber bullets,” the memorandum states.

On Sept. 7, 75 to 100 people gathered near the same station. The plaintiffs claim that at about 10 p.m., deputies began shooting projectiles, tear gas, and other munitions at protestors without warning. During the incident, a 19-year-old woman was shot in the right ankle with a black stinger grenade and struck at least three times in the back and once in her right calf with a rubber bullet, making standing difficult, the filing states.

“At the crux of this is they’re using less-lethal projectiles — rubber bullets, pepper balls, stinger grenades — to disperse people,” said Jorge Gonzalez, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Those are supposed to be used only when there’s an assault on the officers.”

Plaintiffs also claim that deputies have targeted demonstrators. In the memorandum, they describe how on Sept. 9, a man returning from picking up a first aid kit and other supplies for protestors found the tires on his truck slashed. A witness saw deputies slash the tires, the filing states.

As he was about to seek help for his vehicle, four Sheriff’s Department vehicles arrived and detained him as they searched his truck without permission, the plaintiffs allege. They said officials admitted to detaining him because he was bringing supplies to demonstrators.

The request for a restraining order comes after several county supervisors and members of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission called for Villanueva to resign last week.

Some have expressed concern about the sheriff’s lack of compliance with subpoenas and have held that he has refused to share information with Inspector General Max Huntsman, who has accused the department of not cooperating with his investigations of the department for possible violations of freedom of the press. Villanueva has told The Times that he is not concerned by some officials’ lack of confidence in him and plans to continue serving.

Federal Lawsuit Claims Yahoo Management’s Secret Pact with China Supported Torture, Imprisonment of Pro-Democracy Activists

SAN JOSE, Calif., Sept. 2, 2020 — Attorneys for renowned Chinese activist Ning Xianhua have filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Yahoo Inc. founder Jerry Yang and CEO Terry Semel provided Mr. Ning’s Yahoo emails to Chinese authorities in a joint effort to silence pro-democracy dissidents in China and to aid Mr. Ning’s capture, imprisonment, and torture by Chinese government officials. Yahoo’s successor companies, Oath Holdings, a division of Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Altaba Inc. (NASDAQ: AABA) are also named as defendants in the case.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Ning, a survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre, used his Yahoo email account to “privately spread pro-democracy messages and publications, coordinating with other activists through communications he believed to be secure.”

The lawsuit alleges Yahoo enabled the Chinese communist regime to monitor Chinese citizens’ private emails, including correspondence between Mr. Ning and U.S. residents, through a series of confidential agreements between Yahoo management in California and the Chinese government. In return, the Chinese government provided the company with commercial access to more than 100 million Chinese internet users and the possibility of enormous profits.

Based on pro-democracy messages in emails disclosed to Chinese authorities, Mr. Ning was arrested on charges of subversion and subjected to extreme physical and mental abuse, documented in detail in the filing – both prior to and during his seven-year prison term that began in 2004. After his release, Mr. Ning suffered additional arrest and torture, leading him to escape from China in 2016 and receive asylum in the United States.

Mr. Ning now lives in New York City, but due to his limited English proficiency and physical injuries he suffered during his detention and torture, he depends on others in the Chinese community for his basic needs.

“The Yahoo Defendants have always concealed and never disclosed that they provided PRC (People’s Republic of China) officials with information that led to Mr. Ning’s arbitrary arrest and conviction, inhumane torture, and resulting permanent injuries,” the filing states. “Mr. Ning hopes that, through this lawsuit, the Yahoo Defendants are finally made to answer for the torture and injuries befalling Mr. Ning as a result of their misconduct.”

The lawsuit alleges claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign nationals to seek remedies in U.S. courts for human rights violations committed outside the United States with the assistance and knowledge of domestic companies. The filing further alleges violations of the federal Torture Victims Protection Act, which provides a civil remedy against anyone who conspires in the torture or extrajudicial killing of individuals in foreign countries.

“The documented collusion between a U.S. company and a communist regime is appalling, and the resulting torture of Chinese citizens is gut-wrenching,” says famed trial lawyer Mark Lanier of Houston’s The Lanier Law Firm, who is co-counsel for Mr. Ning. “We have a respected, global corporation knowingly condoning these violations, all in the name of corporate profits.”

“Mr. Ning’s human rights were cruelly violated by Yahoo’s secret actions with Chinese authorities,” says Paul L. Hoffman, co-counsel for Mr. Ning and partner in the Los Angeles-based firm of Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes LLP. “U.S. law forbids this kind of complicity in these egregious human rights violations. We are proud to represent Mr. Ning in seeking the justice he deserves under U.S. and international law.”

The lawsuit is Ning Xianhua v. Oath Holdings Inc., f/k/a Yahoo! Inc. et al, filed in United States District Court in San Jose. Paul L. Hoffman, Helen I. Zeldes, Ben Travis and John H. Washington from SSHHZ are proud to be a part of the team representing plaintiff Mr. Ning Xianhua in this action along with Mark Lanier, Kenneth W. Starr, Kevin P. Parker and Benjamin T. Major of the Lanier Law Firm, PC.

For more information, contact: [email protected] or call 310-396-0731

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United States District Court Northern District Of California San Jose Division

Plaintiff NING XIANHUA (Mr. Ning), by and through his undersigned attorneys, complains and alleges the following:

  1. In May of 1989, hundreds of thousands of Chinese students and workers gathered at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest peacefully in favor of democracy and improved conditions for China’s working class. On June 4, 1989, China’s communist regime ordered the Chinese military to remove the protesters from Tiananmen Square and to execute or arrest those who refused. The military violently removed the protesters, killing thousands of them in the process by firing on them with assault rifles and running over them with armored vehicles.

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B.B. v. County of LA

Important Victory for Victims’ Rights in California Supreme Court:
Today in a unanimous ruling the California Supreme Court, in the case of B.B. v. County of Los Angeles, held a L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy could not avoid full responsibility for a man’s death caused by his intentional use of force by pointing to the victim’s contributory negligence. In 2015, a jury determined that a deputy had acted intentionally in using force which killed Darren Burley, an African-American father of five, and awarded the family $8,000,000 in damages. The Court of Appeal substantially reduced the award finding that it should be offset due to the negligent conduct of Mr. Burley. The California Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the entire verdict.

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Black Lives Matters

SSHH& Z lawyers join other LA civil rights lawyers in Protecting the Rights of Protestors.

Paul Hoffman, Michael Seplow, Aidan McGlaze and John Washington are part of a team of LA civil rights lawyers in suing the LAPD for violating the rights of peaceful protestors during mass protests after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. The lawsuit seeks to prohibit the LAPD, among other things, from firing projectiles into crowds and from detaining protestors for hours in unventilated buses in tight handcuffs without any law enforcement justification.

Chocolate Slave Labor Cases

In a significant victory for plaintiffs, the U.S. District Court in Southern California denied Nestlé USA, Inc.’s anti-SLAPP motion, allowing a nationwide class action to move forward, alleging Nestle profiteers off misleading claims that its cocoa is “sustainably sourced,” while knowingly purchasing cocoa from a supply chain that relies on forced child and slave labor, and environmental degradation in West Africa.

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