Widower of Smoker Recovers $1.65M Verdict, Scores Major Victory Against Big Tobacco

big tobaccoA man who lost his wife 14 years ago to lung cancer as a result of her lifelong addiction to tobacco recovered a $1,650,000 verdict in a landmark victory against tobacco company R.J. Reynolds this week, ending an eight-year battle for justice.

Plaintiff attorneys Craig Stevens and John Dill of Morgan & Morgan represented John Maloney in the case on behalf of his late wife, Carolyn. Ever since she died Maloney has fought to hold the tobacco giant liable for her death.

50-year conspiracy

The jury found that R.J. Reynolds, committed negligence, sold a defective and inherently dangerous product along with fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud and was part of a 50-year conspiracy that put consumers’ health at grave risk. Jurors also found that the company’s actions ultimately were the cause of Carolyn Maloney’s addiction and death, and awarded the client a $1.65 million jury verdict as a result.

Additionally, because Stevens and Dill beat the expired Proposal for Settlement, R.J. Reynolds will have to pay attorney fees and costs — which could add up to over $1 million.

This case has special significance because it is part of the “Engle Progeny” litigation. After the Florida Supreme Court decertified a class action lawsuit filed by pediatrician Howard Engle for injuries suffered due to smoking, thousands of former class members were able to file individual lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers for their injuries and losses.

Mrs. Maloney was one of those former class members and this suit was the first of the “Engle” cases to be won in the jurisdiction.

“This verdict is a satisfying conclusion to the long fight for justice against the tobacco giant,” Stevens said. Despite the setback of a mistrial in 2016, Morgan & Morgan’s attorneys kept up the fight and retried the case this year, because they knew Mr. Maloney deserved better.

8 years and 2 trials

“I spent 8 years fighting this case for Mr. Maloney,” said Stevens. “We went through two jury trials to finally get justice.”

“We are very pleased that the jury did the right thing,” said Dill. “It was a long battle, but worth every second. Our client had the love of his life taken from him because of corporate greed. Justice is sweet.”

The case is John Maloney, as PR of the Estate of Carolyn Maloney vs. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., case number 07-CA-015578, in the Circuit Court of the 20th Judicial Circuit of the State of Florida.

Jury Awards $150 Million Against Testosterone Therapy Maker Abbvie

An Illinois federal jury hit testosterone supplement maker AbbVie with a $150 million verdict for punitive damages, finding that the company fraudulently marketed AndroGel by creating a condition dubbed “Low T,” and advertising the product directly to men as a kind of fountain of youth for symptoms such as low libido, weight gain, and mood swings.

However, it also decided that AndroGel was not responsible for plaintiff Jesse Mitchell’s heart attack.

Testosterone therapies are approved only for hypogonadism, a condition in which men produce too little of the male hormone due to disease or defect. Yet AbbVie and other testosterone makers launched aggressive marketing campaigns aimed directly at consumers.

6,135 cases

Mitchell sued AbbVie in 2014 after suffering a heart attack while using AndroGel. His lawsuit is one of 6,135 cases against testosterone therapy manufacturers consolidated into MDL 2545 (multidistrict litigation), IN RE: Testosterone Replacement Therapy Products Liability Litigation. US District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly of the Northern District of Illinois is supervising the MDL.

According to Beasley Allen, his lawsuit pointed to numerous studies that found a link between testosterone treatments and cardiovascular risks, including heart attacks, strokes and blood clots, some of which can be fatal. The drug companies did not include these risks on the safety labels of their testosterone products.

AbbVie argued that Mitchell’s heart attack could have been caused by his obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, poor cholesterol or family history.

The jury ultimately sided with the drug company on the question of cause, but stood with Mitchell on his fraudulent misrepresentation claim. No compensatory damages were awarded, but the jury awarded $150 million in punitive damages in Mitchell’s favor.

The MDL dates back to 2014 and names drug companies such as AbbVie, Besins, Eli Lily and GlaxoSmithKline, and includes products AndroGel, Testim and Axiron, among others. The lawsuits were consolidated in the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois in Chicago. About 6,000 cases are now pending in the MDL, 4,200 of which name AbbVie’s top selling AndroGel.

Judge Kennelly has selected about a half dozen AndroGel cases to serve as bellwethers, the first of which ended in a mistrial in June after the plaintiff’s lead attorney fell ill. That trial is rescheduled for September.

Beasley Allen lawyer Matt Teague is handling testosterone replacement therapy litigation for the firm, and serves on the Plaintiffs Steering Committee for the MDL. For more information, call 800-898-2034 or email Matt.Teague@beasleyallen.com.

Mass Tort Lawsuit Filed over Eliquis for Causing Fatal Internal Bleeding

The estate administrators for a New York man filed a product liability suit against Briston-Myers Squibb Co. and Pfizer Inc., charging that their drug blood-thinning drug Eliquis caused the internal bleeding that killed him.

Raymond Warme of East Hampton, NY, was prescribed Eliquis in April 2014 for atrial fibrillation. Within two months he began having gastrointestinal bleeding which led to his death.

The case, Dawn Dunn et al. v. Briston-Myers Squibb Co., case No. 156043/2017, is filed in New York Supreme Court. The plaintiffs are his daughter Dawn Dunn and his significant other Orla Troy.

Fraud and deceit by Big Pharma companies

The New York lawsuit says, “These representations were made by defendants with the intent of defrauding and deceiving decedent, the public in general, and the medical and healthcare community including decedent’s prescribing doctor, and were made with the intent of inducing [them] to recommend, dispense and purchase Eliquis, all of which evinced a callous, reckless, willful, depraved indifference to health, safety, and welfare of the decedent herein.”

Bristol-Myers and Pfizer’s wrongdoing started in 2010 with the Aristotle clinical study, calculated to get the drug approved by the FDA. During that study, the companies concealed side effects and didn’t report a death, subjects dropping out and dispensing errors, the complaint states.

Employees of the drugmakers also wrote an article published on Aug. 28, 2011, in the New England Journal of Medicine based on the study which the editor-in-chief found to be inaccurate and containing omissions, the suit says.

The FDA said on Feb. 9, 2012, that the companies showed “a pattern of inadequate supervision” and the agency pressed to get more information during the approval process, saying data was missing. The agency also said the label should mention the quality-control issues in the study, according to the suit.

On Dec. 28, 2012, the FDA approved Eliquis to reduce the risk of stroke, blood clots in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation.

“Defendants overstated the efficacy of Eliquis with respect to preventing stroke and systemic embolism, failed to adequately disclose to patients that there is no drug, agent, or means to reverse the anticoagulation effects of Eliquis and that such irreversibility would have life-threatening and fatal consequences,” the suit says.

Two years later in 2014, more than 1,000 adverse event reports were filed with the FDA in that year alone, including at least 100 deaths, and more than 6,000 adverse event reports in 2015 consisting of hemorrhaging / gastrointestinal hemorrhaging. Yet the companies never strengthened their label.

Research Reveals Workplace Discrimination Law Reinforces the Very Harms It Aims to Redress

Rights on Trial bookA major new book by three American Bar Foundation (ABF) scholars illustrates how employment civil rights litigation entrenches patterns of discrimination in and out of the workplace.

“Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality” offers a comprehensive analysis of employment civil rights litigation in the U.S. and gives voice to real plaintiffs in their pursuit of justice and defense of their fundamental civil rights.

Co-authors and sociologists Ellen BerreyRobert L. Nelson, and Laura Beth Nielsen examined 1,788 cases filed between 1988 and 2003 and conducted 100 interviews with plaintiffs, plaintiffs’ attorneys, employer defendants, and defense attorneys, to represent a holistic view of workplace discrimination law in action.

Though significant legislative and judicial progress in civil rights protections has been made over the past 50 years, “Rights on Trial” emphasizes how workplace discrimination based on race, gender, age, and disability persists. The authors find that the adversarial nature of litigation places plaintiffs at a disadvantage from the outset. Legal recourse is rare, but plaintiffs who do file legal charges often experience substantial challenges in navigating litigation, including:

  • mistreatment by their colleagues and management
  • difficulty securing legal representation
  • extensive personal and financial burdens – including job loss – as a result of the case.

Meanwhile, employers manage litigation in ways that minimize costs and insulate their workplaces from change, particularly through their reliance on small settlements.

Existing systems of privilege

The book exposes the ways that employment civil rights litigation can underscore existing systems of privilege. The research reveals that many plaintiffs struggle to obtain a lawyer as a result of structural inequalities and lawyer biases. It finds that 23% of workplace discrimination cases are filed without a lawyer or pro se. Cases filed pro se are dismissed at a rate of 40%, compared to 11% for cases with attorneys.

These disadvantages are exacerbated for people of color; African American plaintiffs are 2.5 times more likely to file claims without a lawyer and Asian American and Latino plaintiffs are 1.9 times more likely to file pro se compared to their white peers.

“Even though Americans revere rights, and employers say they strongly favor discrimination law, the litigation process demeans the people who make rights claims,” said the authors. “In fact, employment civil rights litigation tends to reinforce the very patterns of inequality that the law was intended to eliminate.”

“Rights on Trial” is the culmination of more than a decade of research examining the U.S. model of employment civil rights litigation. In February 2017, the EEOC cited the research contained in “Rights on Trial” as a basis for changes in its 2017-2021 Strategic Enforcement Plan. This research was supported by the American Bar Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Searle Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Ford Foundation.

“This book reflects ABF research at its finest,” said ABF Director Ajay K. Mehrotra. “The authors have conducted a deeply rigorous empirical study of employment discrimination that tackles timely and important questions about the stubborn persistence of discrimination and its relationship to social inequality.”

For more information on “Rights on Trial” or on Berrey, Nelson, and Nielsen’s research, please visit rightsontrial.com.

About the authors

Ellen Berrey is an ABF-affiliated scholar, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, and a celebrated sociologist whose research investigates the culture and politics of inequality, race, and law.

Robert L. Nelson is the MacCrate Research Chair at the ABF and professor of sociology and law at Northwestern University. He is a leading scholar of the legal profession and discrimination law and an expert on the relationship between law and social inequality.

Laura Beth Nielsen is a research professor at the ABF and professor of sociology and law and the director of the Center for Legal Studies at Northwestern University. Nielsen’s award-winning research focuses on the sociology of law, civil and constitutional rights, and how ordinary people understand and relate to law. She has edited several books on employment civil rights including “Handbook of Employment Discrimination Research: Rights and Realities,” co-edited with Nelson in 2005.

The American Bar Foundation (ABF) is among the world’s leading research institutes for the empirical and interdisciplinary study of law. An independent, nonprofit organization for more than 60 years, The ABF seeks to expand knowledge and advance justice through innovative, interdisciplinary, and rigorous empirical research on law, legal processes, and legal institutions.  To further this mission the ABF will produce timely, cutting-edge research of the highest quality to inform and guide the legal profession, the academy, and society in the United States and internationally. The ABF’s primary funding is provided by the American Bar Endowment and The Fellows of The American Bar Foundation.

New Mexico Man Recovers $7.75M in Pressure Sore Malpractice Claim

Medical Scandal: Hospitals Fail to Report Bad DoctorsA New Mexico jury awarded $7.75 million to a 44-year-old man who developed severe pressure ulcers due to negligent treatment in intensive care.

Tom Rhodes Law Firm P.C. served as co-counsel for the subsequent injury claim, Case No. D-202-cv-2012-04942 in Bernalillo County (Albuquerque).

Co-counsel included attorneys Tom Rhodes and Robert Brzezinski of Tom Rhodes Law Firm P.C. and attorneys Randi McGinn and A. Elicia Montoya of McGinn, Carpenter, Montoya & Love, P.A.

The $7.75 million jury award against Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque was composed of:

  • $4 million award to the plaintiff for compensatory damages.
  • $1.5 million award to the plaintiff’s wife-turned-caretaker, Tammy Lee Bruyere, for compensatory damages of her own.
  • a $2.25 million punitive damage award to both plaintiffs.

Wound develops in 6 days

The plaintiff, Michael Webb, was admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital in 2011. He remained in a semi-conscious state for many days and depended on the medical staff at Presbyterian for all of his care needs. Within only six days, a skin wound had developed on his sacrum due to a general lack of repositioning of his body while he was unable to reposition himself. Five days later, a wound care specialist examined the wound and found that it had become a severe Stage 4 pressure ulcer.

The plaintiff’s attorneys focused on Presbyterian Hospital’s own patient safety policies and procedures for a significant portion of the trial. Its regulations require patients who are at risk for pressure sores to be repositioned once every two hours, or more frequently if necessary, with the specific intent of preventing pressure ulcers from forming.

Due to generally neglectful care, Mr. Webb was left in the same position for long stretches at a time. The end result was the formation of a large, painful pressure ulcer that required additional medical treatment, including painful debridement processes that removed skin, flesh, and damaged tissue in large amounts. His ulcer has still not fully healed.

Jurors who spoke with legal counsel after the verdict was given noted that the multimillion award was not only to fairly compensate the plaintiff but to also reinforce the need for adequate patient safety training at Presbyterian Hospital and other medical groups.

Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Lawsuit Trial Starts in California

The trial of the first of more than 300 ovarian cancer lawsuits involving Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products started on July 10 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The case was filed by 63-year-old Eva Echeverria, a California resident, who claims she developed ovarian cancer in 2007 after using J&J’s talc products since the 1950s.

The case is Eva Echeverria v. Johnson & Johnson, Case No. BC628228 and the coordinated proceeding is Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Cases, Case No.  JCCP4872, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles.

Mark P. Robinson Jr. and Kevin F. Calcagnie of Robinson Calcagnie Inc.
are representing Echeverria.

“This trial is vitally important, as it is considered a bellwether case. The verdict in this lawsuit could provide insight into how juries might decide similar claims pending in California’s talcum powder litigation,” says Sandy A. Liebhard, a partner at Bernstein Liebhard LLP, a nationwide law firm representing victims of defective medical devices, drugs and consumer products.

Nationwide Talcum Powder Litigation

Johnson & Johnson has been named a defendant in more than 3,000 talcum powder lawsuits currently pending in courts around the country, all of which were filed by women who allegedly developed ovarian cancer after the regular use of the company’s talc-based powders for feminine hygiene purposes. Plaintiffs claim that Johnson & Johnson officials were aware of research published as early the 1970s that suggested such a link, yet failed to warn the public to protect it profits derived from its Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower product lines.

In federal mass tort litigation, J&J is facing 415 lawsuits in MDL 2738 in New Jersey, supervised by US District Judge Freda L. Wolfson, IN RE: Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Products Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation.

The California trial will be the first convened outside of Missouri’s 22nd Circuit Court in St. Louis, where one of the nation’s largest talcum powder litigations is currently underway. So far, only one Missouri jury has rendered a verdict in favor of Johnson & Johnson. Plaintiffs in four cases have been awarded compensatory and punitive damages amounting to $110 million, $70 million, $72 million and $55 million. A mistrial was declared in the state’s sixth trial just last month. (Case No. 1422-CC09326-01).

4 Civil Rights Groups Sue Trump Administration to Prevent Collection of Voter Information

Four civil rights organizations have filed suit against the Trump administration charging that it violated federal privacy laws and is operating illegally in secret.

President Donald Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity by executive order on May 11.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is the vice chair of the commission, sent a letter to all 50 states and the District of Columbia on June 28, asking them to submit data from their voter rolls, including voters’ political party affiliations and voting histories from 2006 onwards, as well as voters’ names, addresses and dates of birth.

This is a shoddy commission, and the stakes are high,” said Kristen Clarke, the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “They seek data on more than 200 million registered voters across the country. At the least, they should be complying with federal legal requirements’ governing the commission’s functions.”

A second suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union charges that “the commission was established for the purpose of providing a veneer of legitimacy to President Trump’s false claim that he won the popular vote in the 2016 election—once millions of supposedly illegal votes are subtracted from the count.”

This, says the suit, violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires from committees such as this that they convene a membership that is “fairly balanced” and shielded from outside influence.

Both suits charge that the commission has already violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which sets the standards for committee openness and accountability. Both groups allege that:

  • One telephone consultation that violated federal open-meeting requirements has already occurred and that the committee is holding back working papers and other documents that by law should be made available to the public.
  • Both object that the commission’s proclaimed first meeting, called for July 19th, will be viewable only on the Internet.

A third suit by Public Citizen, argues that the commission is violating the federal Privacy Act by designating the Army to collect data on voters’ registrations and voting histories and other identifying data, including partial Social Security numbers and birthdates. The group said that law barred the federal government from collecting or using any “record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” which covers voting and other forms of political expression.

A fourth suit was filed last week by the Electronic Privacy Information Center charging that last week’s request letter violated the 2002 E-Government Act. Under the statute, the government must publicly assess the consequences of its actions before seeking personal information stored electronically.

Public Citizen lawsuit

Public Citizen sued the U.S. Department of the Army to block the collection and dissemination of information about voters’ political parties and voting histories. The President’s Commission on Election Integrity requested that states submit such information to an Army website by July 14.

The commission is asking that states upload the information to the Department of the Army’s Safe Access File Exchange (SAFE) website.

In its suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Public Citizen alleges that the Army’s collection and dissemination of the information violates the Privacy Act, which prohibits the collection, use, maintenance or distribution of any “record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

“The federal government should not be compiling information about citizens’ political affiliations and their exercise of the right to vote,” said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. “Americans are right to be worried about who will gain access to the data and how it will be used. There is little doubt that the overriding purpose of the data collection effort, and of the deceptively named Commission on Election Integrity itself, is to intimidate voters, particularly people of color, and to suppress voting on a massive scale.”

“The Army’s collection of this information will violates the Privacy Act,” said Sean Sherman, the lead attorney on the case. “Immediate action is needed by the court to ensure voters’ information is protected.”

Because of the upcoming deadline and the irreparable harm that would befall Public Citizen’s members if their information was collected and disseminated, Public Citizen is requesting that the court issue a temporary restraining order. Although many states have said that they will not comply with the commission’s request, at least one state, Arkansas, has already submitted information.

View the Public Citizen complaint.

ACLU Files Federal Lawsuit Over Trump Election Commission Secrecy

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit over the lack of transparency by President Trump’s election commission.

“This commission is a sham. Donald Trump lost the popular vote, and this commission was established to sell the lie that he didn’t. The end game is to justify laws that will make voting harder for people, most likely minority and lower-income people. And the commission wants to do this all behind closed doors. That’s not only bad for our democracy, it’s against the law,” the ACLU says.

The ACLU is urging a US district court to force the commission to comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act and ensure all meetings are open to the public and written records are available for public inspection.

“The commission held its first meeting without notice or making it open to the public. This process is cloaked in secrecy, raising serious concerns about its credibility and intent. What are they trying to hide?” said Theresa Lee, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

Federal law requires that Commission meetings be open to the public, with timely notice provided, allowing for in-person attendance, and that written records be made available to the public. It must also adopt measures to ensure that its work is not inappropriately influenced by special interests or the president himself.

President Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes, yet he promotes the lie that voter fraud is to blame. Trump, in turn, created the commission via executive order.

Kobach and voter suppression

It is led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whom the ACLU has successfully sued numerous times over his voter suppression policies. Kobach has been roundly criticized for attempting to solicit detailed information on every registered voter in the United States. He has not divulged how the commission would use — or protect — that sensitive information, which includes names, addresses, birth dates, political affiliation, and voting history.

The commission will hold a July 19 meeting — only available via internet live stream — and has, by its own admission, held a previous telephonic meeting without notifying the public, as required by law.

“Our election process must be secure, fair, and transparent,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Yet the Commission is conducting its work deep in the shadows, making it alarmingly suspect. The Commission is legally required to conduct the people’s business in the light of day.”

Click to sign a petition to demand the transparency and accountability this commission owes the public. Make it clear we won’t let them hide behind closed doors while they try to restrict our voting rights.

The case, American Civil Liberties Union v. Donald Trump, was brought by ACLU National and the ACLU of the District of Columbia. It was filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C.

More information is at: https://www.aclu.org/cases/american-civil-liberties-union-v-donald-trump

Federal Court Approves $142 Million Settlement in Wells Fargo Unauthorized Accounts Scandal

The federal court overseeing the first class action lawsuit filed against Wells Fargo, related to unauthorized accounts, granted preliminary approval to a $142 million settlement designed to compensate Wells Fargo customers nationwide.

The court also appointed Keller Rohrback L.L.P., to represent the class of bank victims. The national consumer class action firm brought the case, captioned Jabbari, et. al. v. Wells Fargo & Company and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Case No. 3:15-cv-02159-VC, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in 2015.

The Court found on July 8, 2017, that for the purpose of preliminary approval, it is satisfied that the revised settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate within the meaning of Rule 23.

The settlement compensates customers for fees charged on Wells Fargo unauthorized consumer or small business checking or savings accounts, unsecured credit cards, or unsecured lines of credit, compensates them for damage to their credit resulting from any unauthorized accounts, and provides additional compensation to all class members based on the number of unauthorized accounts opened in their names.

“We are pleased that the court has preliminarily approved this groundbreaking settlement that provides substantial monetary benefits and first-of-its-kind credit repair damage to customers. The settlement is an important component of holding Wells Fargo accountable for its abuse of its customers’ trust,” said Derek Loeser, a partner at Keller Rohrback L.L.P. and lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

Information will soon be sent to class members about the settlement benefits. Potential class members can also go to the settlement website, www.WFSettlement.com, or call (866) 431-8549 for more information. The court is scheduled to hold a final fairness hearing to decide whether to grant final approval on January 4, 2018.

The class covered by the settlement consists of people for whom Wells Fargo opened a consumer or small business checking or savings account, an unsecured credit card, or an unsecured line of credit, or submitted an application for one of these, without the customers consent during the period from May 1, 2002, through April 20, 2017. The class also consists of people who obtained Wells Fargo’s Identity Theft Protection Services during the same time period.

Plaintiffs are represented by:

Derek W. Loeser
Gretchen Freeman Cappio
Daniel P. Mensher
Keller Rohrback L.L.P.
1201 Third Avenue, Suite 3200
Seattle, WA 98101

Matthew J. Preusch
Keller Rohrback L.L.P.
801 Garden Street, Suite 301
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Jeffrey Lewis
Keller Rohrback L.L.P.
300 Lakeside Drive, Suite 1000
Oakland, CA 94612

Keller Rohrback L.L.P. is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with offices in 6 locations. Its trial lawyers have obtained judgments and settlements on behalf of clients in excess of $18 billion.

Hobby Lobby Must Return 5,000 Ancient Artifacts that it Smuggled from Iraq

Hobby Lobby must give back more than 5,000 ancient artifacts that is smuggled from Iraq and pay a $3 million settlement after the U.S. Justice Department sued the company for importing looted antiquities.

The company smuggled thousands of cuneiform tablets to the U.S. through the United Arab Emirates and Israel with packaging labels falsely described as tile “samples,” according to press release from the Justice Department. Disregarding warnings, Hobby Lobby knowingly purchased the looted artifacts for $1.6 million in a 2010 acquisition.

The Justice Department filed a civil complaint against Hobby Lobby on July 5 to forfeit all the cuneiform tablets and clay bullae. Smuggling these ancient clay artifacts violated federal law. Packages containing the artifacts were shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a religion-based company notorious for denying women insurance coverage for contraceptives.

The shipping labels on these packages falsely described cuneiform tablets as tile “samples.”

$3 Million Settlement

Hobby Lobby will forfeit 144 cylinder seals and pay a $3 million settlement. It must now hire qualified legitimate customs counsel and brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property acquisitions for the next 18 months.

The complaint and settlement were announced by Bridget M. Rohde, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New York.

“The protection of cultural heritage is a mission that HSI and its partner U.S. Customs and Border Protection take very seriously as we recognize that while some may put a price on these artifacts, the people of Iraq consider them priceless,” stated Special Agent-in-Charge Melendez.

Hobby Lobby began to assemble a collection of historically significant manuscripts, antiquities, and other cultural materials. Its president and a consultant traveled to the UAE in July 2010 to inspect a large number of cuneiform tablets and other antiquities being offered for sale. Cuneiform is an ancient system of writing on clay tablets that was used in ancient Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.

Ignoring Warnings

In October 2010, an expert on cultural property law retained by Hobby Lobby:

  • Warned the company that the acquisition of cultural property likely from Iraq, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, carries a risk that such objects may have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq.
  • Advised Hobby Lobby to review its collection of antiquities for any objects of Iraqi origin and to verify that their country of origin was properly declared at the time of importation into the United States.
  • Warned Hobby Lobby that an improper declaration of country of origin for cultural property could lead to seizure and forfeiture of the artifacts by U.S. Customs.

Ignoring these warnings, Hobby Lobby purchased more than 5,500 artifacts in December 2010, including cuneiform tablets and bricks, clay bullae and cylinder seals, for $1.6 million.

The sleazy acquisition of the Artifacts was fraught with red flags. For example:

  • Hobby Lobby received conflicting information where the Artifacts had been stored prior to the inspection in the UAE.
  • When the Artifacts were presented for inspection to Hobby Lobby’s president and consultant in July 2010, they were displayed informally.
  • Hobby Lobby representatives had not met or communicated with the dealer who purportedly owned the Artifacts, nor did they pay him for the Artifacts.
  • Following instructions from another dealer, Hobby Lobby wired payment for the Artifacts to seven personal bank accounts held in the names of other individuals.

Hobby Lobby Smuggling

With Hobby Lobby’s consent, a UAE-based dealer shipped packages containing the Artifacts to three different corporate addresses in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Between one and three shipments arrived at a time, without the required customs entry documentation being filed with U.S. Customs, and bore shipping labels that falsely and misleadingly described their contents as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample).”

After approximately 10 packages shipped in this manner were received by Hobby Lobby and its affiliates, U.S. Customs intercepted five shipments. All of the intercepted packages bore shipping labels that falsely declared that the Artifacts’ country of origin was Turkey. No further shipments were received until September 2011, when a package containing approximately 1,000 clay bullae from the same purchase was received by Hobby Lobby. It was shipped by an Israeli dealer and accompanied by a false declaration stating that the bullae’s country of origin was Israel.

In executing the stipulation of settlement, Hobby Lobby has accepted responsibility for its past conduct and agreed to take steps to remedy the deficiencies that resulted in its unlawful importation of the Artifacts.