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Consumers have a right to file lawsuits under California law alleging food products are falsely labeled "organic," the state Supreme Court ruled.

Thursday's ruling overturned a lower court decision that barred such suits on the grounds that they were superseded and not allowed by federal law.

Congress wanted only state and federal officials to police organic food violations in order to create a national standard for organic foods, a division of the 2nd District Court of Appeal decided in 2013.

But the state Supreme Court said allowing consumer lawsuits would further congressional goals of curtailing fraud and ensuring consumers can rely on organic labels.

"Accordingly, state lawsuits alleging intentional organic mislabeling promote, rather than hinder, Congress's purposes and objectives," Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote for the unanimous court.

The ruling will have an impact beyond California's borders, said Marsha Cohen, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

"Nothing in here is irrelevant to a parallel case in another state," she said. "The court is simply saying federal law does not supersede our consumer protection functions."

At issue were allegations in a lawsuit by consumer Michelle Quesada that Herb Thyme Farms Inc. — one of the nation's largest herb producers — mixed organic and non-organic herbs then falsely labeled the product "100 % organic." The term "organic" means the food was produced using sustainable practices and without synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering, according to the California Department of Public Health. The department says products labeled "100% organic" must consist of only organic ingredients.

A call to Cliff Neimeth, an attorney for Herb Thyme Farms, was not immediately returned.

The company said in court documents it had been authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use the organic label.


Emmanuelle Maria's breasts were burning and globules of silicone gel were protruding into her armpits. Her implants had exploded inside her. Yet her doctors, she says, told her nothing was wrong.

Now, she wants the French government to tell 30,000 women to get their implants removed — at the state's expense — to call attention to their risks and save others from potential pain and indignity.

Prompted by calls from implant wearers and leading doctors, French health authorities are considering a drastic and unprecedented move: recommending mass surgery to rid the country of a type of breast implant that investigators say was secretly made with cheap industrial silicone whose medical dangers remain unclear.

Governments around Europe are hanging on France's decision Friday. Tens of thousands more women in Britain, Italy, Spain and other European nations are walking around with the same pre-filled implants, made by the now-defunct French company Poly Implant Prothese, or PIP.

Health officials from several European countries held a conference call Wednesday to discuss the implants, Portugal's Director-General of Health, Dr. Francisco Jorge, told The Associated Press. European Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent said no decisions were made, but France informed the others of the situation.


A case involving AT&T that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this week has sweeping ramifications for potentially millions of consumers.

If the court rules for the telecom, any business that issues a contract to customers, such as for credit cards, cell phones or cable TV, could prevent them from joining class-action lawsuits.

This would take away one of the most powerful legal tools available to consumers in such cases, particularly those involving relatively small amounts of money. Class-action suits allow plaintiffs to band together in seeking compensation or redress, giving more heft to their claims.



New court documents filed in a case against Toyota Motor Corp. claim the auto giant bought back cars with sudden acceleration defects and failed to report the problem to federal regulators.

The allegations made in court documents filed Wednesday also say Toyota compelled car owners to sign confidentiality agreements that prevented them from speaking publicly about sudden acceleration in their vehicles.

An e-mail message for a Toyota spokesman was not immediately returned.

Hundreds of lawsuits were filed against Toyota after the automaker began recalling millions of vehicles because of acceleration problems in several models and brake glitches with the Prius hybrid.



Hyundai Motor Co. said it is voluntarily recalling 139,500 Sonata sedans in the U.S. because of a manufacturing defect that could cause drivers to lose steering control.

The recall affects 2011 models built between Dec. 11, 2009 and Sept. 10, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted on its website Sunday. Some of the cars have steering column shafts with connections that may not have been tightened enough or were improperly assembled. As a result, the steering wheel could become separated from the column or a driver could lose the ability to properly steer the car.

The U.S. government had opened an investigation into possible steering problems in the vehicle in August. Hyundai, South Korea's top automaker, has said there have been no related injuries or crashes reported.

Owners of affected vehicles can go to their dealers for inspection. Dealers also will update power steering software. Owners may also call NHTSA at 888-327-4236 for more information.

The recall comes as automakers ramp up their focus on safety and quality control in the wake of Toyota Motor Corp.'s massive global recall last year over gas pedal and floor mat problems. In February, Hyundai announced a recall of about 47,000 Sonata midsize sedans, mostly sold in South Korea, to replace front door latches following a handful of customer complaints. The company said it had discovered a mechanical problem with the latches which, in rare instances, would not close properly.



Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday it will replace accelerator pedals on about 4 million recalled vehicles in the United States because the pedals can get stuck in the floor mats.

As a temporary step, Toyota will have dealers shorten the length of the gas pedals beginning in January while the company develops replacement pedals for their vehicles, the Transportation Department and Toyota said. New pedals will be available beginning in April, and some vehicles will have brake override systems installed as a precaution.

Popular vehicles such as the Toyota Camry, the top-selling passenger car in America, and the Toyota Prius, the best-selling gas-electric hybrid, are among those recalled. Also included is the luxury Lexus ES350, the model in a fiery fatal accident in California that focused public attention on the danger.

Toyota, the world's largest automaker, announced the massive recall in late September and told owners to remove the driver's side floor mats to prevent the gas pedal from potentially becoming jammed. The recall and extensive fix is the latest problem to confront the Japanese automaker's sterling reputation for quality during a period of rapid growth, and it prompted top executives to push for improved quality controls.

"The safety of our owners and the public is our utmost concern and Toyota has and will continue to thoroughly investigate and take appropriate measures to address any defect trends that are identified," Toyota said in a statement.



Six companies are recalling millions of window blinds and shades, following the deaths of three children who got caught in cords that help the coverings move up and down.

The recalls, announced Wednesday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, involve some big-name companies, including Pottery Barn Kids and IKEA as well as smaller companies that sold their window covers at retailers such as Target.

No deaths were associated with the blinds and shades from Pottery Barn Kids and IKEA, but CPSC says there have been six reports of children becoming entangled in the inner cord of the Pottery Barn Kids shades.

CPSC says the three deaths, which date back to 2006, involved blinds or shades made or imported by Vertical Land Inc., of Panama City Beach, Fla., and Lewis Hyman Inc., in Carson., Calif.

A one-year-old was killed in 2007 when he became entangled and strangled in the lift cord loop of a roll-up blind from Lewis Hyman that had fallen into his portable crib, CPSC said. The company is recalling about 4.2 million of the blinds.

It's also recalling more than a half-million roman shades following the strangulation death of a 13-month-old boy last year. The child was found with his head caught between the exposed inner cords and cloth on the backside of the shade, the agency said.

Vertical Land is recalling more than 32,000 blinds and shades following the death of a four-year-old girl. Her death was first reported to CPSC in 2006. The girl was strangled in the loop of a vertical blind cord that was not attached to the wall or floor.


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