Leslie A. Brueckner
LESLIE A. BRUECKNER
Leslie A. Brueckner is a Senior Attorney at Public Justice, where she specializes in cutting-edge appellate litigation in the state and federal courts, with a focus on access-to-justice issues. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and summa cum laude graduate of U.C. Berkeley, Leslie’s current areas of practice include class actions, constitutional law, federal preemption, mass torts, consumer rights, and combating court secrecy. She recently celebrated her 25th anniversary with Public Justice.
Leslie was lead appellate counsel in Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine (2002), where she won a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision on behalf of man whose wife was killed when she was repeatedly struck by an unguarded boat propeller. In a rare decision favoring tort victims’ rights to hold manufacturers accountable, the Supreme Court held 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. (Leslie’s oral argument in Sprietsma can be accessed via this link.)
Co-lead appellate counsel in Geier v. American Honda Inc. (2000), U.S. Supreme Court decision finding, by a 5-to-4 vote, that federal law impliedly preempts claim that car was defective because it lacked an airbag but that federal law does not expressly preempt any state law claims.
Co-counsel in Freightliner v. Myrick (1995), unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision finding that federal law does not preempt design-defect claim against truck manufacturer for failing to install anti-lock brakes in trucks.
Among notable recent victories, Leslie is co-lead appellate counsel in Monsanto v. Hardeman (9th Circuit May 2021), which yielded the first federal appellate decision in the country affirming the rights of cancer victims to sue Monsanto for injuries caused by Roundup. In upholding an $80 million jury verdict on behalf of Ed Hardeman (later reduced to $25 million), the Ninth Circuit rejected Monsanto’s argument that failure-to-warn claims involving Roundup are preempted by federal law, paving the way for thousands of other victims to obtain justice from Monsanto.
Leslie was lead counsel in Cherry v. Dometic Corp. (11th Cir. January 2021), which restored the viability of class actions in the Eleventh Circuit by rejecting a “heightened” ascertainability standard that required proof, at class certification, that all class members can be identified in an administratively feasible fashion without the use of self-identifying affidavits. (Leslie’s oral argument in Cherry can be accessed via this link.)
Leslie has also recently won three unanimous rulings from the California Supreme Court, in 2019, 2017, and 2015.
The most recent of these victories was in Noel v. Thrifty (July 2019), where Leslie won a unanimous class action ruling from the California Supreme Court rejecting a strict version of the so-called “ascertainability” requirement and restored the viability of consumer and worker class actions against wrongdoing corporations. (Here’s Leslie’s blog, which links to the decision. Leslie’s oral argument can be viewed here.)
In December 2017, Leslie won another landmark unanimous ruling from the California Supreme Court in T.H. v. Novartis holding that brand-name drug manufacturers can be sued for failing to warn of the dangers of mislabeled, generic versions of their drugs. The decision rejected over 100 reported appellate decisions from state and federal courts nationwide. Leslie and her co-counsel Ben Siminou were awarded the Pound Civil Justice Institute’s 2018 Appellate Advocacy Award for their work on the case. (Here’s more info about the case from our website.)
In 2015, Leslie won her first groundbreaking decision from the California Supreme Court in Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc., which upheld consumers’ rights to bring a class action against an organic grower for mislabeling its conventionally grown herbs as “organic.” The decision remains the only appellate decision in the country to hold that federal law—specifically, the Organic Food Production Act of 1990—does not preempt state consumer fraud claims on behalf of individuals who were defrauded by the use of the “USDA organic” label on conventionally grown food.
Leslie was also co-counsel for plaintiffs in a series of lawsuits challenging so-called “ag-gag” laws that seek to criminalize whistleblowing in animal agriculture and elsewhere. Two such laws—Idaho’s and Wyoming’s—have been declared unconstitutional by U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and Tenth Circuits. (Public Justice’s challenges to North Carolina’s law are pending.)
Leslie is currently co- or lead counsel in a number of other important appeals, including:
● Glover v. Bausch & Lomb (Conn. Supreme Ct. and 2d Cir.), where the Second Circuit will decide whether the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act expressly or impliedly preempts state tort claims predicated on a medical device manufacturer’s failure to report adverse events to the FDA—an issue that is currently the subject of a split in the federal circuits. The Second Circuit has asked the Connecticut Supreme Court to decide whether Connecticut state law recognizes a cause of action based on violation of the FDA’s reporting requirements. If the state court says yes, the case will go back to the Second Circuit to decide whether the state-law cause is action is preempted. (More information on this case can be found here.)
● In re Zantac (11th Cir.), a federal MDL involving injuries causes by the blockbuster drug Zantac and its generic equivalents; issues on appeal include whether Brand-name drug manufacturers can be held liable for injuries caused by the generic equivalents of their drugs—the same issue that Leslie and her co-counsel Ben Siminou won in their groundbreaking California Supreme Court case T.H. v. Novartis, which recognized a cause of action for “innovator liability” under California law, thereby paving the way for victims of mislabeled generic drugs to have their day in court (more info about T.H. v. Novartis can be found here);
● Korolshteyn v. Costco, Inc. (9th Cir.), a Ninth Circuit appeal of a decision dismissing, on federal preemption grounds, a putative consumer class action involving allegedly falsely labeled dietary supplements; if affirmed, the district court’s ruling would strip consumers of their right to seek any remedy for being tricked into buying supplements at premium prices, no matter how outrageously false and misleading the labels, and would allow corporations to lie about the health benefits of their supplements with impunity (Leslie’s oral argument can be viewed here);
● Leon v. County of Riverside (Cal. Supreme Court), where the California Supreme Court will decide whether California law affords complete immunity from liability for all misconduct committed by a police officer during the course of an investigation. The plaintiff is the widow of a Latino man whose dead body was flipped over and dragged by police during the course of a murder investigation, causing his genitals to be exposed. The widow sued the police for their refusal to cover the body, alleging negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Court of Appeals dismissed this case based on a broad reading of a California code provision that, if affirmed, would give police complete – not just qualified – immunity from tort liability. The Supreme Court granted review to consider the scope of governmental immunity under California law. (More information on this case can be found here.)
● Moore v. LaSalle Management Co., et al., (5th Cir.), a Section 1983 action on behalf of the family of a Black man who was killed by private prison guards after being arrested on a misdemeanor charge; the appeal raises various cutting-edge issues including qualified immunity and the availability of punitive damages against private prisons (further information on this case can be found here);
● Niedermeyer v. FCA US LLC (Cal. Supreme Ct.), a case involving consumer remedies under California’s Lemon Law, including whether a car dealer who violates its statutory duty to repurchase an unfixable lemon can claim an offset credit for the car’s trade-in value, thereby thwarting the Lemon Law’s foremost goal of protecting consumers from dangerous lemons (more info about Niedermeier can be found here).
● Sheen v. Wells Fargo (Cal. Supreme Ct.), where a non-English speaking Korean-American immigrant and his family were rendered homeless when Wells Fargo lied about the status of their pending loan modification application; the lawsuit asks the Court to set a new national precedent by allowing Sheen and others like him to sue lenders and mortgage servicers in tort (more info about Sheen can be found here).
Additional Background and Recognition:
Leslie 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. She joined Public Justice (then Trial Lawyers for Public Justice) in 1993.
In 2011, Leslie founded Public Justice’s Food 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.
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 2012, Leslie was also honored to receive the Women’s Consumer Advocate of the Year Award from Consumer Attorneys of California.
In 2018, Leslie received the Pound Civil Justice Institute 2018 Appellate Advocacy Award for her work as co-lead appellate counsel (with Ben Siminou) on T.H. v. Novartis, which yielded a unanimous decision from the California Supreme Court holding that brand-name drug manufacturers can be held liable in tort for injuries caused by mislabeled generic versions of their drugs.
In 2019, Leslie was awarded the 2019 Dale Haralson FALLOUT AWARD from the Western Trial Lawyers Association “in recognition of her extraordinary work in advancing Public Justice for the past quarter century.
In 2019, Leslie was a Finalist for the Appellate Lawyer of the Year Award given by Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles.
In addition to her litigation work, Leslie has taught appellate advocacy at American University Law School and Georgetown University School of Law.
Other Notable Appellate Cases:
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.
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.
Co-lead counsel (and arguing counsel) in Southern California Gas Cases, a California Supreme Court appeal involving the largest methane gas leak in United States History, at SoCalGas’s Aliso Canyon Facility. (An excerpt from Leslie’s oral argument can be accessed via this link at 4:32.)
Lead appellate counsel in McNair v. Johnson & Johnson before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals on whether brand-name prescription drug manufacturers can be held liable for injuries caused by generic versions of their drugs. A favorable ruling in the case would have restored access to justice to thousands of consumers of mislabeled drugs who currently have no recourse for their injuries.
Counsel for the Center for Food Safety in Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Wasden (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit): Challenge to an Idaho “ag-gag” law that criminalized undercover recording in industrial agricultural facilities, including factory farms and slaughterhouses.
Co-counsel for Animal Legal Defense Fund in National Meat Association v. Harris (U.S. Supreme Court): Leslie 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.
Lead counsel in Drelles v. MetLife (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit): Leslie briefed and argued this federal appeal yielding a 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.
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.
Co-counsel in Aguayo v. U.S. Bank (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit): Federal preemption appeal holding that federal banking law does not preempt state debt-collection laws.
Lead appellate counsel in Novotny v. Sacred Heart Health Services (South Dakota Supreme Court): Federal constitutional challenge to state’s medical peer-review privilege. The lawsuit alleged that two South Dakota Hospitals conspired with a dangerously unethical spine surgeon to commit high-risk, unnecessary surgeries on over 30 patients, leaving many permanently disabled. The suit asked the Court to recognize a “crime-fraud” exception to a statutory medical peer review privilege.
Leslie 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); Bristol-Myers-Squibb v. San Francisco Superior Court; Bruesewitz v. Wyeth (vaccine preemption); Bates v. Dow Agrosciences (pesticide preemption); Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez (whether a class action defendant can moot 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).