Popehat Signal: Help Fight the Censorious Villainy Of Roca Labs

New Popehat Signal courtesy of Nigel Lew.  Thanks, Nigel!

It's time to light the Popehat Signal to find pro bono assistance for citizens threatened with a bogus and censorious lawsuit.

The cartoonish villain of this story is Roca Labs, whose belligerent attempts to silence critics inspired my post last month. Roca Labs, you may recall, produces a pink slime that one is supposed to eat to suppress the appetite. Roca Labs is pathologically adverse to criticism, and therefore has hit upon an increasingly familiar tactic — they require at least some of their customers to sign contracts promising not to criticize them at all. Based on those contracts, they filed a lawsuit against Pissed Consumer.com, a gripe site that printed complaints by their customers. Their quasi-legal flailing became more desperate when First Amendment heavyweight Marc Randazza took up PissedConsumer.com's defense.

Now Roca Labs has crossed the Rubicon from mildly entertaining legal buffoonery to outright despicable abuse of the system calculated to suppress not only the right to free speech but the right to petition the government. As TechDirt first reported, Roca Labs has now sued — in Florida — three of its customers from other states. What's notable about these three customers? One of them provided witness testimony in Roca Labs' lawsuit against PissedConsumer.com. Roca Labs has previously complained about many different customers exercising free speech, but now wantonly targets just these three consumers, one of whom just happened to be a witness against them.1 Roca Labs is demanding damages, attorney fees, and an injunction prohibiting these consumers from criticizing Roca Labs. As Techdirt points out, Roca Labs' attorneys rather comically assert that the defendants' criticisms are "defamation per se" because they agreed in advance contractually that they would be. That's not how it works, dipshits.

Roca Labs isn't a full Prenda yet, but by God, it's trying.

Those three defendants need help. Even when a suit is patently frivolous and vexatious, defending it — particularly in a distant state — is ruinously expensive. That's Roca Labs's purpose — not to win on the merits, but to silence critics through cynical abuse of the legal system. These three defendants can't afford to hire lawyers in Florida. If they don't get help, Roca Labs wins through manipulation of a broken system.

You can help. If you are a lawyer admitted in Florida, you can act, at least, as local counsel. If you are a lawyer in another state, you can help Florida counsel. If you're just someone with a voice on the internet, you can help get the word out about Roca Labs and its contemptible behavior, and help these people find pro bono legal assistance. (Some sort of fundraising campaign, at least for costs, is also a possibility, though the defendants should get independent legal advice about that.) You can also get the word out about the unethical and repulsive behavior of the attorneys who filed this suit, Nicole Freedlander and Paul Berger of the "Hurricane Law Group." Berger has also been involved in threatening bloggers and witnesses.

And finally, please help circulate and promote this question: why would any sensible person consume a weight-loss product from a company that sues customers who criticize its safety, value, or efficacy? Does that sound safe to you?

By the way, this is not the end of Roca Labs' bizarre behavior — stay tuned for more.

Fight evil.

  1. Why did Roca choose the other two? Stay tuned . . . .  

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. says

    Roca Labs isn't a full Prenda yet, but by God, it's trying.

    So you're telling me there's a chance… YEAH!

    Let me grab my popcorn and beverage before the show starts… OK, bring on the entertainment! [cue Roca Labs next genius move in 3,2,1…]

  2. Sam says

    I'm admitted in Florida. Since Roca's listed place of biz (in their pleading) is Sarasota, I would think removal to the Middle District (I'm admitted there) would be proper considering diversity and amount in controversy. Any way to help?

  3. seakahr says

    What if a large number buy the smallest dose possible to get the contract, sign it, then defame as widely as possible. The cost of suing everyone would be higher than the revenues from the sold products, no?

  4. Fasolt says

    Please, oh please, let the Roca staff and apologists find their way here. And by the way Roca Labs, NEVER go full Prenda.

  5. Sam says

    It's worth noting too that Florida law has a reciprocity provision for atty's fees in "breach of contract" cases – 57.105(7) F.S. which could mean the defendants could get their fees paid (if the "contract" had a fee provision.

  6. Dan T. says

    One thing I hate about Roca Labs is that the name makes me think of the city I live in, Boca Raton, even though that's not even the part of Florida they're based in (though some of their legal filings mention a PO Box address in Delray Beach, which is right next to Boca). Boca already has some reputation for involvement in scamming, spamming, and such things, and I don't want to see its reputation tarnished some more by people not even in it.

  7. N. Easton says

    Ken, you've repeatedly described our system as "broken." (I concur wholeheartedly, as a general thing.)

    What would you change in order to fix it? At least specifically in the context of defamation and quasi-defamation cases like the above?

    My own thoughts would start with the establishment of a sort of "internet court" into which cases could be diverted, but I'm probably not experienced enough to have good opinions on re-engineering the disposition of first-amendment cases.

  8. ObviousFakery says

    @Evan

    I suggest using the usual scientific prefixes. In this case, I'd award fifty or so milliPrendas to their current situation. After all, they've only sued four parties so far and only in two states (IIRC), not even through any local proxies! They haven't even really gotten going with in-court shenanigans, either. They've got a ways to go before reaching a full Prenda.

    Heck, they've even got a business model based on selling things and a real headquarters.

  9. Fasolt says

    From the Hurricane Law Group "About Us" page:

    The Hurricane Law Group, is a boutique firm that exclusively represents policyholders in insurance cases. We represent individual policyholders, business owners and commercial property owners and associations. The firm was founded nearly ten years ago by Paul Berger, Esq. to assist policyholders in hurricane losses and we have grown to helping our clients with fire claims, pipe bursts, water leaks, business interruption claims, tornado damage and more.

    The firm handles cases on a contingency fee bases, this means that there is NO UPFRONT FEE of any kind unless we recover more money for you.

    Well, they're going off of the mission statement with the Roca case. They say they work on a contingency basis. They better get their money upfront on this one. I don't see this one going their way.

  10. albert says

    @Peter
    LOL. No need. Other Florida newspapers will take up the slack. :)
    .
    Hurricane Group seems to specialize in representing hurricane victims in insurance cases. Maybe if there were more hurricanes, they wouldn't need to get business outside of their area of 'expertise'.
    .
    freedlanderlaw.com redirects to hurricanelawgroup.com
    .
    Neither Freedlander, nor James Hetz, list any 1st Amendment specialization.
    .
    Ah 'spect a whole heap o' folk gittin' larned 'bout all thet thar constitushun stuff.
    .
    I gotta go…

  11. darthskeptic says

    Hurricane Law Group may mean they are all graduates of the University of Miami School of Law.

    Go Gators.

  12. Bob Brown says

    @ N.Easton: A strict "loser pays" rule would go a long way toward putting a stop to this kind of abuse without denying access to the courts for cases of actual defamation. To that I'd add that, for contingent fee cases, the losing law firm should be on the hook for "loser pays" in proportion to the fee percentage in the contingency agreement.

  13. Leader1 says

    It's pathetic. We are pathetic
    Am I the only one not to follow the herd?

    I have checked the court records and it seems like Marc Randazza forgot to tell us something. Randazza has LOST 2 motions asking for protective orders. He LOST 2 protective orders and somehow avoided sections. Roca Labs apparently waited patiently for the court to "approve" these fillings.

    How can he send me to take a case like this for free?! Actually…. 3 cases and more to come.

  14. Kevin says

    I was reading through the Terms on the Roca website (what a hoot), and noticed this provision in the Discount & Endorsement section (the non-disparagement clause) :

    The above paragraph does not apply to California residents or transactions that take place in California.

    What is unique about CA law would have prompted this?

  15. stavro375 says

    Aside:

    (Some sort of fundraising campaign [for legal advice] is also a possibility, though the defendants should get independent legal advice about that.)

    Law can be awfully perverse at times.

  16. Scott says

    A Google maps search for Roca's principle place of bidness turns up either a Mexican restaurant or a Goodwill store. Neither would be very surprising, if true.

  17. Kevin says

    Gosh, Leader1 sure sounds like a totally disinterested party who just stumbled upon this post by chance via the Popehat signal. What luck that someone so knowledge about the case just happened to be here to clear things up for us!

  18. Matthew Cline says

    Maybe THIS time Roca Labs will sue you. *crosses fingers*

    Speaking seriously, aren't there any rules or laws against suing someone for providing testimony in a court case?

  19. says

    @no – Not for me. I am fascinated (and entertained!) by the foolish decisions made by people that should know better. Add to that Ken's snark…

    Yeah, I'm in. :)

  20. Fasolt says

    Leader1
    November 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    It's pathetic. We are pathetic
    Am I the only one not to follow the herd? …

    And I was worried the Roca gang wasn't going to show up. Silly me. And, by the way Leader1, what sections did Randazza avoid? The Mezzanine? The Balcony?

    And why the quotes around the word approved? That usually implies sarcasm. Did the court approve the filings or not? You might also link to a source verifying statements like the one you made above in case not all of us are familiar with these "sectionable"(sic) offenses Randazza may or may not have committed. .

  21. Fasolt says

    @Evan Huus-

    This quote from "True Lies" came to mind:

    Faisil: It's a scale really, with a perfect mission at one end and a total pooch screw at the other, and we're right about in the middle.

    I think Roca is already past the middle, and rocketing down the rails with reckless abandon towards the pooch screw side of things..

  22. says

    Mind boggling when you consider the implications to pharmaceuticals and their regulation, though granted there is a whole range of active OTC compounds that are not regulated. Still, it makes sense for quacks to shift from town to town ASAP and/or to curry favour with the local tyrant to ensure sales are brisk.

  23. Deniable Sources says

    @Dave Fernig,

    Roca is presumably evading regulation by claiming that they're just selling a nutritional supplement. I think they might be on very thin ice there, because they're absolutely claiming it as a alternative to surgery, and the way it works (by creating a partial intestinal obstruction) is not food-related. I think that the FDA might decide that they were really an unapproved medical device (or an unapproved pharmaceutical agent) based on their clear claims that their product affects the human body to treat a disease (obesity). Unfortunately, the FDA is chronically overwhelmed, but some focus on this might be interesting.

    I also noticed that they have at least four major insurance company logos on the front page of their website that might tend to imply endorsement by those companies. I wonder if Blue Cross, Aetna, United, or Cigna are aware of this?

    Just some other ways that Streisand might pay.

  24. Drebin says

    I suggest we take a page from a small internet meme-copypasta and refer to it as the:"Prenda Scale of Bar Dismemberment". Where one Prenda would be the sanctioning of multiple members of, or the entire membership of a firm. We would have to expand it out though, as what would be .5 Prenda? A single member getting slapped down in multiple venues? Would a .25 Prenda be a listing on Popehat and a stern smack-down by a geek-speaking judge?

    Then again, then handy part of this is envisioning what a negative Prenda would be (A Randazza?) and/or multiple Prenda. Any thoughts on what a 3.14 Prenda might entail?

  25. says

    @Leader1:

    I'm not following your reasoning. He lost 2 protective orders, so what? Are you saying that losing a motion somehow equates to wrongdoing? And he's not asking for your help (at least not in this post he's not, Ken White is). If a case was a total slam dunk, the need for the Popehat signal would be lessened (not that it would be irrelevant by any means, even a slam dunk could get costly for someone) but I think a major reason Ken puts up the signal is to get High Quality help for people. IANAL but if he put up the request and expected only wimps or people that thought they'd have to do no work at all would take him up on it, it wouldn't be all that impressive. Any reader of this sight should immediately pick up this isn't a sight run by punks or wimps – if a bully shows up, Ken's going to swing even if the bully is big. So what's your point?

  26. Anti-Prenda says

    Am I the only one to notice they included names and order numbers for quite a few other customers in their exhibits? The Recent list is interesting – I wonder if those customers are also having disputes and have been pummeled into silence. Is there enough there to start a class action lawsuit?

  27. C.J. Stryver says

    @Leader1:

    "Randazza has LOST 2 motions asking for protective orders. He LOST 2 protective orders and somehow avoided sections."

    That sonofabitch Randazza lost motions but avoided sections? Sections? This is outrageous. Is he somehow better than all of us? Do different rules apply to him? We all have to have the sections but he avoids them? Why were we not told that Randazza didn't get the constitutionally mandated sections?

    I demand apologies from everyone here.

    p.s. Did you make your fake product pink because you were inspired by the pink slime in Ghostbusters 2?

    p.p.s Does your fake pink slime product feed off of the negative attitudes of people so that you can bring about the second coming of Vigo the Carpathian?

    p.p.p.s. Is it fair to say your fake slime is fake if you answer yes to that last question?

    p.p.s. What do you think would be worse, eating your ghostbusters 2 slime or getting hoof and mouth disease? I say hoof and mouth but i'm interested to hear what you think.

  28. Fasolt says

    p.p.s Does your fake pink slime product feed off of the negative attitudes of people so that you can bring about the second coming of Vigo the Carpathian?

    That odious purchase agreement that Roca makes you accept makes sense now! Roca doesn't want any negative comments or bad reviews of their stomach Bondo© energizing all of the pink slime running under the lab. They're actually trying to save us all and reduce obesity! How could I have been so wrong about their intentions?

  29. sinij says

    What if "no criticism" is a health-related product warning? Something like "do not operate heavy machinery while under influence of this drug"?

  30. delurking says

    Hi Ken,
    Given your experience with this part of the legal system, I would appreciate it if you could give your opinion on this. You link to Randazza's request for a TRO and for sanctions against Roca Labs. Do you think these requests are quixotic, in the sense that our legal system is very unlikely to grant them but Randazza et al. feel they should be submitted because a fair legal system should grant them? Or, do you think such requests actually have a decent chance of success. Thanks very much.

  31. says

    I think Marc's motions were at the very least colorable. The magistrate's written order treats it seriously, and both times the motion was denied explicitly without prejudice — that is, subject to being re-filed given different circumstances. The issue seems to be that some courts have said that threats of litigation aren't witness tampering for purposes of the witness tampering statute.

    The motions certainly achieved one effect: they brought Roca's sleazy behavior to the court's attention and made it public.

  32. Matthew Cline says

    The issue seems to be that some courts have said that threats of litigation aren't witness tampering for purposes of the witness tampering statute.

    Wait, what? How can they not be witness tampering?

  33. andrews says

    Everyone seems to think this is a non-FDA-approvable "nutraceutical" product. Having seen Roca Labs' suit including their own statements to customers, I am not so sure.

    They say that "The Formula is manufactured in an FDA-compliant facility" and that it "is approved for use without a prescription". It "contains only certified ingredients".

    They say that the product is individually formulated after their doctor reviewed the customer information.

    They also tell clients to"treat the Formula like you would any medicine".

    I am having a hard time seeing it as being an unregulatable food supplement based on their writings. I am a non-medical person with nearly no familiarity with FDA regulation of foods, supplements, and medicines. An expert may read these things differently.

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