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Davis Vaughn Tells All – JUUL, Social Media Litigation & the Public Nuisance Panel at Harris Martin – Buffalo

By Susan Barfield
June 18, 2024

Susan Barfield (00:06):
Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Leverage Report. Really excited to be joined today by Davis Vaughn, who is an attorney at Beasley Allen Davis. Thanks so much for taking time to connect with me today and with our listeners.

Davis Vaughn (00:19):
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me, Susan. I’m excited to speak. Yeah.

Susan Barfield (00:22):
Well, I know one of the main things we’re going to talk about, we’ll hit on that at the end, is the panel that you’re going to be talking on next week at Harris Martin. But before we dive into that, I would love to understand a few things. One, we’re going to talk a little bit about the Juul litigation, the social media litigation, but we always are curious about why did you go into law?

Davis Vaughn (00:41):
Sure. So it’s funny, I didn’t have a lawyer in my family, but I always wanted to be a lawyer. It was a weird, I was the only one who kind of had that interest, and I started off, my very first legal job was actually here at Beasley Allen. I was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, and the managing partner of my firm, Tom Edman, lived a couple of streets down for me and I was in high school, a summer kid needed some money to put gas in the car and was looking for summer jobs and went to Mr. Tom Edmond and said, I kind of want to be a lawyer, don’t really know what exactly that consists of. So he was like, okay, sure, you can come work, start off in the mail route. So as a 16-year-old, I started working at Beasley Allen in the summer and was delivering mail to the attorneys, and that kind of grew into, I had some attorneys that then asked for clerical help, typical paralegal type, prepare my depo binder, review these exhibits, get them in order. And so I was able to spend a summer really kind of in the other side of law, the back office side of law, not actually obviously practicing law as a high schooler, but beginning to see how Beasley Allen lawyers practiced. And so for me, that really just kind of lit my passion on fire for wanting to be a lawyer, and now it’s kind of come full circle now, a partner here, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with Beasley Allen.

Susan Barfield (01:52):
Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s a great story. You got exposure, got your foot in the door, and yeah, now you’re a partner. That’s really cool. Well, why don’t we start off with understanding what is going on in the Juul litigation. Maybe if you’ll just provide some backdrops, some latest developments, that would be great.

Davis Vaughn (02:08):
Sure. So the Juul litigation obviously was because of the e-cigarette epidemic that really started in youth and adolescents, but then also bled into schools and really affected school districts as well. So there was kind of four different types of plaintiffs in the Juul multi-district litigation. You had personal injury, plaintiffs, school district, plaintiffs, tribal plaintiffs, and then obviously you had dozens upon dozens of state attorney generals who also filed lawsuits against juul. So there was a global settlement that occurred, I guess now it’s probably been a year and a half, two years ago with Juul as to the personal injury and the school district plaintiffs that settlement has been a work in progress. That was years of work leading up to it. Beasley Allen was able to represent both personal injury plaintiffs as well as school district plaintiffs, and we had bellwether plaintiffs in both of those types of cases.

(03:02)
So it was several years of obviously working the cases up through discovery, through motion practice, through setting trial dates. But ultimately, Juul did resolve those cases and they have kind of moved into the settlement front. There was also another defendant in the Juul cases, Altria. So Altria had a case that actually went to trial. It was the San Francisco Unified School District case that went to trial, and at the end of plaintiff’s case in chief, the parties were able to negotiate a settlement for Altria. Ultimately didn’t go to a jury verdict, but at the end of plaintiff’s case, the Altria piece of the settlement was resolved. So there’s really kind of two settlements. The Juul settlement and the Altria settlement both have provided meaningful compensation to personal injury plaintiffs as well as school district plaintiffs across the country. I mean, overall, I think there was somewhere close to six to 8,000 personal injury plaintiffs and approximately 1500 school districts across the country that were a part of either or both settlement programs to be able to provide compensation for them. As far as kind of the litigation goes, the vast majority of it is resolved. There are some states and some schools who I believe are continuing on with litigation. Either they were not a part of the settlement or were not in the MDL and are in state court avenues. So there are still some cases going on, but the majority of the dual litigation has at least been wrapped up and settled.

Susan Barfield (04:24):
I know last week there was a reversal of the FDA denial. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Davis Vaughn (04:30):
Sure. So the FDA and JUUL battle has been going on for several years now. There have been multiple developments that initially there was a stay to where JUUL then appealed that stay to be able to stay on the market, and then last week they reversed the FDA, their initial decision. It’s very difficult to track and to follow honestly and to even predict what exactly is going to happen with the FDA’s decision. With juul, what we do know is that the FDA has focused in on e-cigarette manufacturers. There have been a lot of lookalike JUUL devices and a lot of kind of one time disposable devices that have attempted to come onto the market. And so the FDA is constantly reviewing what new players are trying to get into the e-cigarette market, how it is affecting specifically the youth, and then whether those devices actually can help adult smokers switch, or are they really just going after youth and kids and trying to get new users of nicotine. So as of right now, I think JUUL is still on the market and you can still go purchase it, but there obviously are certainly continued battles ahead with the FDA and whether or not it will maintain its market share and be a viable product going forward to be determined. And it’s very difficult to look into that crystal ball as the FDA is continually reviewing different e-cigarette companies, including JUUL, and then issuing different orders based off of their review.

Susan Barfield (05:56):
Well, we appreciate the updates on that litigation. Let’s turn and talk a little bit about social media. I know that there’s two consolidated actions, the MDL and the JCCP. Can you tell us a little bit about those cases and the case criteria?

Davis Vaughn (06:09):
Sure. So you’re exactly right. The social media litigation, which is on behalf of personal injury, plaintiffs, school district, plaintiffs and attorney general plaintiffs. So similar to the Juul litigation, you have all of the players who have showed up here in the social media litigation. And I do just kind of want to provide just a general overview of it. It is, in my view, an incredibly important litigation because as I think everyone is aware, these big tech companies have completely altered all of our lives in terms of how we communicate, how we share information, but it’s really affected our youth and kids specifically. And so the litigation really stemmed from Francis Haugen, who was a meta whistleblower who testified before Congress several years ago and put forth documents and internal information to Congress that Meta was targeting youth and was particularly wanting to increase the amount of time that youth were spending on their apps.

(07:05)
And why would someone want to do that? Well, it’s a simple matter of money. The more time kids spend on these apps, the more data that they’re able to collect, and then in turn, these social media companies can sell the advertisements at a higher dollar, so more time spent equals more money for the company. It’s really a very simple A plus B equals C type of equation. And so once Francis Haugen kind of testified before Congress with internal documents and data from meta firms across the country, including Beasley, Allen began investigating claims on behalf of really young kids who had become addicted to social media and were suffering severe personal injuries. As a result, those injuries include obviously severe anxiety and depression, but some more serious injuries of suicidal ideation, completed suicides, eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia, self-harm. And so as we were investigating kind of the personal injury front, we also were talking with some of our JUUL school clients and talking with them about, okay, we know JUUL was a problem for your school district.

(08:06)
Talk to us about social media. I think what we found was that social media is having a 10 x effect on the daily operations of school districts across the country. Schools are having to implement new policies and procedures for dealing with students and social media. Some schools, including my hometown district of Montgomery Public Schools, Alabama, they’ve had to purchase faraday bags or magnetic pouches that students place their phones in before they come into a school campus to really alleviate that distraction of social media. But schools have also had to extend broad resources to help students’ mental health. The addicted students come into the school and they require support services, whether that be counseling, therapy or psychiatric services that all come at a major cost to school districts. The litigation really represents kind of those personal injury claims, the school district claims. And then over 40 attorney generals have also filed claims primarily against meta related to social media addiction and the harms that are happening in our youth.

(09:10)
So that’s kind of the overview of it. The way the litigations are broken up is there is one consolidated litigation, the multi-district litigation in the northern district of California. That’s before Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, and then there is a California state consolidated litigation. It’s called the JCCP, that is before Judge Carolyn Kool. So it’s state court federal court action. I think we frequently see that mass torts world where you have both kind of two bodies of litigations going on at the same time. As far as the case criteria goes for personal injury cases, it is firm specific in terms of each firm is looking at a different criteria. Generally, I would say what we are seeing is for the personal injury claims, someone who started as a youth on social media who spends three plus hours on social media a day, who has one of the identified injuries that I mentioned before, that severe anxiety, depression, eating disorder, self-harm, suicide, et cetera, that has been documented in either a medical record or they have received some sort of medical treatment for those listed injuries. So that’s a general overview of the case criteria. Obviously, again, some firms have more specific details or some firms are maybe primarily investigating some defendants as opposed to others and both litigations. Just to provide that information, there are four key defendants. The first of which is meta. Meta includes Instagram and Facebook. Then there’s the TikTok defendants, the SNAP for Snapchat defendants and the YouTube slash Google defendants. So those are the four main defendants that obviously cover the primary social media platforms that youth are using today,

Susan Barfield (10:48):
And attorneys want to get involved in this litigation. What would you recommend?

Davis Vaughn (10:52):
Well, we would obviously be happy to talk with you at Beasley Allen. We are involved in both the MDL and the JCCP. We have personal injury and school district clients that are filed. In both cases, it is a fast moving litigation. Both courts have set what we are calling as kind of rocket dockets for fact discovery. Fact discovery actually closes at the end of December. So both courts, the MDL has already selected personal injury and school district bellwethers. The JCCP actually selected personal injury bellwethers on Friday. So we are very busy underway, kind of reviewing the selections. But so the bellwethers and both litigations have been selected and they are going to begin undergoing case workup. Obviously that includes written discovery. Then we’ll turn to depositions. We have the bellwether discovery, but we are also intensely involved in the discovery of each of the defendants.

(11:45)
So it’s a great time to get involved because this is a litigation to where we have a fast track. Right now, the JCCP is looking at a trial date for a personal injury case in the summer of 2025. The MDL has set a trial date for October of 2025. It’s unsure which of the category of plaintiffs is going to go first in those trials, but we at least have trial dates in order to get involved. I think it’s sooner rather than later, just so you can obviously have your case before either the MDL or the JCCP and happy to discuss the pros and cons of either of those two venues with anyone who’s interested in pursuing cases or wanting to file a case. But it certainly is going to be a fast pace next several months as we get to the close of fact discovery and then turn to expert discovery at the beginning of 2025.

Susan Barfield (12:38):
Yeah, it sounds like it. Appreciate the updates there. Lastly, let’s talk about next week. I’m going to be excited to see you in Buffalo on the 27th at the Harris Martin Conference where you have been selected to speak on public nuisance. So can you give us, for those listeners that may not have heard about this litigation, kind of an overview about it and just what the panel discussion is going to be about?

Davis Vaughn (12:59):
Yeah, absolutely. So public nuisance is a claim that we have seen in multiple big mass torts recently, opioids, JUUL social media. It is a claim to where a public right has been affected. The general public right has been affected. And so in JUUL, you had school districts bring public nuisance claims, social media school districts are bringing public nuisance claims, opioids. You had a lot of state and government entities that also brought claims. So our discussion is really going to kind of give a lay of the land of here’s mass torts that have brought public nuisance claims. Here’s where they have been successful, here’s where they have run into some challenges. Here’s ways that public nuisance law has developed. It is a very state by state specific law because some states they base it on just the general common law. Some states have actually statutes that allow for public nuisance recovery.

(13:51)
It’s an interesting body of law because you can collect, obviously damages from the past, damages that you have incurred, but it also provides a remedy called abatement. So abatement is for you to basically say, look, in order for me to address, to remedy the nuisance that company acts has caused, we need X number of funds and X number of dollars to be able to remedy or abate the nuisance going forward. So our panel is really going to provide a good overview of nuisance law in mass torts, the lay of the land and what we envision will be nuisance claims moving forward. So I think it would be informative for anyone who either you maybe represent any type of government entity, client or institutional client, I think it would be incredibly informative because that’s often where you see the nuisance law claims and anyone who does any type of litigations against larger companies or mass towards litigations. Often in these litigations, we’re seeing a claim of nuisance attorney generals bring nuisance claims as well. So folks who maybe work with attorney generals or are interested in working with your state attorney generals, I think it’ll be informative.

Susan Barfield (14:58):
Anyone on the fence that is considering going to the event next week, not sure if they can take time out of their week to attend, what would you suggest? Why should they come and attend?

Davis Vaughn (15:08):
Well, you should attend because there’s a lot of great attorneys, not me, but a lot of great attorneys other than me who will be speaking. I mean, it truly is. I think if you look at the agenda from top to bottom, it is kind of the powerhouse attorneys of the plaintiff’s bar who are taking time out of their days to be there and to talk. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of great panels and a lot of great discussions. Really, it’s a one day event. It’s not a conference to where you’ve got to give up your whole week. And so I think that is good. Also, for me personally, Buffalo Wings are my favorite food, and so that’s a huge perk too. I’m very excited to be able to hopefully take some time to enjoy some buffalo wings and buffalo. But overall, I think that the agenda, you’ll be able to hear about multiple of the leading mass torts cases, as well as substantive updates on the law, how to get involved in these mass torts, and how to also best position your personal injury, plaintiff cases for success.

Susan Barfield (16:02):
Yeah. I’m excited to see you next week and to listen to this panel. Davis, it’s been a real pleasure. I am grateful that you took time out of your day to connect and share with the listeners the updates on these litigations and talk about the event next week. Thank you so much for your time.

Davis Vaughn (16:16):
Thank you, Susan. See you next week.

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