Leslie A. Brueckner
Leslie A. Brueckner is a senior attorney at Public Justice. She received her A.B. degree summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley in 1983, where she was awarded the University Medal for the Most Distinguished Graduating Senior. Leslie is also a 1987 magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. In December 1993, she joined Public Justice (then Trial Lawyers for Public Justice), where her areas of practice include class actions, constitutional law, food safety, federal preemption, and combating court secrecy.
Among other victories, Ms. Brueckner has won unanimous preemption rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court in Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine Corp., 537 U.S. 51 (2002) (upholding an injury victim’s right to sue a manufacturer for failing to install a propeller guard on its recreational motor boat engines), and from the California Supreme Court in Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc. , 62 Cal. 4th 298 (2015)(upholding consumers’ rights to sue an organic grower for mislabeling its conventionally grown herbs as “organic”).
In 2011, Leslie became the director of Public Justice’s new Food Safety & Health Project, which seeks to hold corporations accountable for the manufacture, distribution and marketing of food and other products that endanger consumers’ safety, health and nutrition. The Food Safety & Health Project spans the gamut of Public Justice’s key practice areas, from workers’ rights, consumers’ rights and access to justice to environmental protection. In fighting the myriad abuses against consumers, workers, animals and the environment, the Project works with other public interest groups, not only on litigation, but also in educating consumers about food safety and health issues.
Leslie is co-lead counsel in T.H. v. Novartis, where the California Supreme Court will decide whether whether brand-name prescription drug manufacturers can be sued for injuries caused by generic versions of their drugs. Public Justice represents the plaintiffs in the case, twin boys who were brain damaged in utero by a drug that was prescribed without any warnings that it posed a serious risk of injury to the developing fetal brain. If the case is resolved favorably to the plaintiffs, California will be the only jurisdiction in the country that allows the victims of generic drugs to seek damages from brand-name prescription drug manufacturers.
Leslie is also lead appellate counsel in Novotny v. Sossan, where the South Dakota Supreme Court is considering a federal constitutional challenge to the the state’s medical peer review privilege. The lawsuit alleges that two South Dakota Hospitals conspired with a dangerously unethical spine surgeon to commit high-risk, unneccesary surgeries on over 30 patients, leaving many permanently disabled. The suit, if successful, will be the first in the country to create a “crime-fraud” exception to a statutory medical peer review privilege.
Leslie is also counsel for one or more plaintiffs in a series of lawsuits challenging so-called “ag-gag” laws that seek to criminalize whistleblowing in animal agriculture and elsewhere. One such law—Idaho’s—has been declared unconstitutional by the trial court and is on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; Public Justice’s challenge to two other laws (in Wyoming and North Carolina, respectively—are pending in the federal trial courts.)
In 2012, Leslie was honored by the Animal Legal Defense Fund with its “Pro Bono Achievement Award” for her work fighting the unsafe and inhumane treatment of animals in factory farms.
In addition to her litigation work, Leslie has taught appellate advocacy at American University Law School and Georgetown University School of Law.
Notable Appellate Cases:
Lead counsel in Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine (U.S. Supreme Court): Federal preemption appeal on behalf of man whose wife was killed when she was repeatedly struck by an unguarded boat propeller. Brueckner won a unanimous ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court holding that the Federal Boat Safety Act does not preempt petitioner’s state common-law claims against a boat engine manufacturer for failing to install a propeller guard on the engine of a recreational motor boat. Public Justice’s client was Rex Sprietsma, the husband of the woman who was killed by the unguarded propeller.
Lead Counsel in Quesada v. Herb Thyme Inc. (California Supreme Court): Brueckner won a unanimous ruling in this federal preemption appeal upholding the rights of consumers to sue the nation’s largest grower of organic herbs—Herb Thyme—for intentionally mislabeling conventionally grown herbs as “organic” and pocketing the premiums that organic produce commands. In so ruling, the California Supreme Court rejected the California Court of Appeals’ conclusion that the federal Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) preempted the consumers’ claims. The high court held that, in reality, lawsuits like the plaintiffs’ are not preempted because they affirmatively support OFPA’s core goal of enhancing consumer confidence in meaningful organic labels. This is the first appellate decision in the country affirming the rights of consumer to sue over the mislabeling of organic products.
Lead counsel in Drelles v. MetLife (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit): Federal appeal yielding unanimous ruling that consumers who opted all of their claims out of a nationwide class action settlement with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife) cannot be barred from fully prosecuting their individual cases against the company. MetLife had sought an injunction preventing the opt-out litigants from taking any discovery or asserting any claims in their individual cases against MetLife relating to illegal nationwide sales practices at issue in the class action settlement.
Lead counsel in Priester v. Ford Motor Company (South Carolina Supreme Court): Federal preemption appeal on behalf of the mother of a young man who died when ejected from a passenger truck during a rollover accident. The lower court ruled that federal law preempts state tort claims that a passenger vehicle was defective because its side windows were made of tempered glass, which shatters on impact, rather than laminated glass, which holds together on impact, thereby minimizing passenger ejection in rollovers. After persuading the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate and remand an adverse decision from the South Carolina Supreme Court, Brueckner briefed and argued the appeal on remand in October of 2011. Unfortunately, the Court ultimately reaffirmed its original decision.
Co-lead appellate counsel in U.S. Airways v. McCutchen (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court): ERISA reimbursement case yielding a landmark ruling from the federal appellate court limiting the rights of an ERISA plan to recover medical expenses from an injury victim who obtained compensation from a third party. (In April 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a split decision in the case, affirming in part and reversing in part the decision below.)
Co-lead appellate counsel in CGI v. Rose (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit): ERISA reimbursement case yielding a unanimous ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit limiting the rights of an ERISA plan to recover medical expenses from an injury victim who obtained compensation from a third party. (The Ninth Circuit’s decision was later vacated and remanded based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in U.S. Airways v. McCutchen.)
Co-counsel for Animal Legal Defense Fund in National Meat Association v. Harris (U.S. Supreme Court): Brueckner assisted in an effort to preserve a California law designed to prevent the abuse of pigs and other livestock who become non-ambulatory on the way to the slaughterhouse. The law was passed in 2008 in response to the Hallmark slaughter plant investigation in Chino, Calif., which exposed horrific abuse of downed dairy cows. The Ninth Circuit upheld the law, holding that California has the authority to ban the slaughter of certain animals where it is contrary to the state’s interest in ensuring the humane treatment of animals and the protecting the food supply. The U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in the case in November 2011; the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and found that the California statute is preempted by federal law.
Co-counsel in Aguayo v. U.S. Bank (Ninth Circuit): Federal preemption appeal holding that federal banking law does not preempt state debt-collection laws.
Co-counsel in Mensing v. Wyeth (U.S. Supreme Court): Federal preemption appeal holding that a plaintiff’s failure-to-warn claims against generic drug companies for injuries caused by metoclopromide are preempted by federal law. Unfortunately, the appeal yielded an adverse ruling from the Supreme Court.
Brueckner has also appeared for amici curiae before the U.S. Supreme Court in a number of cases including: Altria v. Good (light cigarette preemption); Amchem Prods. v. Windsor (class action settlement involving “future” personal injury victims); Bruesewitz v. Wyeth (vaccine preemption); Bates v. Dow Agrosciences (pesticide preemption); Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez (whether a class action defendant can moot out class claims by offering to settle individual claims); Dow Chemical Co. v. Stephenson (whether failure of proponent of Agent Orange class action to issue adequate notice to “future” personal-injury victims provides alternative basis for refusing res judicata bar to class action settlement); Shady Grove Orthopedic Associates v. Allstate Ins. Co (whether state legislature can prohibit federal courts from using class-action device for state-law claims); Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo (whether, in Rule 23(b)(3) class action, liability and damages may be determined with statistical techniques that presume all class members to be identical to average); Warner-Lambert Co., LLC v. Kent (whether the presumption against preemption may properly be applied in implied-conflict preemption cases); (Williamson v. Mazda (auto safety preemption); Wyeth v. Levine (brand-name prescription drug preemption).