Dentsply International Inc. was the victor in a three-week UCL class action trial in San Francisco Superior Court. Plaintiffs challenged the FDA-cleared prescription medical device labeling of an ultrasonic scaler, which dentists and hygienists use to clean teeth, as “deceptive” and “misleading” for not including more explicit statements on the microbiological quality of dental water. Plaintiffs claimed that the content of the device’s instruction manual violated California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) and breached an express warranty to purchasing dentists of fitness for “surgical” use.
Represented by Linda S. Woolf, Richard M. Barnes, and Derek M. Stikeleather of Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP, Dentsply put on extensive evidence that professionally trained and licensed dentists have long understood the microbiologic quality of dental water and how to properly maintain all dental water lines, including those in ultrasonic scalers. Even plaintiffs’ dental expert conceded these critical points on cross-examination. Dentsply further showed that the instruction manuals that accompany devices that professional dentists were trained to use in dental school are virtually irrelevant to their purchase decisions and clinical practice. Notably, there was also no evidence that any ultrasonic scaler output water has ever injured anyone, despite decades of widespread use.
In its written opinion, following post-trial briefing, the trial court rejected plaintiffs’ allegations. It explicitly found that the purportedly deceived dentists “already know the facts which plaintiffs say ought to have been disclosed.” It further found that the “evidence does not show anyone was misled, or that the class was likely to be misled.”
The win is notable because California has a notoriously low threshold for certifying class actions, which typically expose defendants to extraordinary liability. Certification creates enormous pressure on defendants to settle cases even where, as here, the claims ultimately lack merit. This dynamic has made class action litigation more attractive to plaintiffs, especially in jurisdictions like California, and has created significant exposure for once-unimaginable claims of “unfair” conduct.