Litigation Jungle: Amazon Faced 13,000 Actions in Last Six Years

With net sales of over $514 billion in 2022, Amazon is among America’s and the world’s highest earning companies. Its business is diverse—from pharmacy services to cloud computing to grocery sales and delivery to cinematic production and streaming—Amazon has its finger in many pies.

This is partly due to the e-commerce giant’s long history of acquisitions, in recent and relevant part: Whole Foods Market (WFM) in 2017, Ring in 2018, Zoox in 2020, Metro Goldwyn Meyer in 2021, and iRobot and One Medical in 2022.

In addition to litigation stemming from its vast online retail business, Amazon’s acquisitions have driven legal activity, whether spurring the company to affirmatively protect intellectual property or causing it to defend an antitrust suit. Since the WFM acquisition, Docket Alarm analytics reveal that Amazon and its subsidiaries have been involved in at least 13,000 legal proceedings with an average of 6.1 filings per day.

Notably, more than a third are before either the United States’ patent or trademark tribunals. Nearly 1,600 cases have been filed in federal court involving Amazon and its recent acquisitions.

In this article, we highlight a variety of suit and suit types, explain possible reasons they were initiated, and acknowledge which firms Amazon hired in its defense.

Labor Issues

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is one of the forums Amazon features in most prominently for labor practice issues.

As depicted, cases before the executive administrative body increased dramatically in the last two years when Amazon found itself in hot water with agency and state law enforcers as well as private litigants over its warehouse staffing practices and policies. As the company’s retail business soared, critics claimed its COVID-19 policies compromised warehouse worker safety to pad its bottom line, as one class action said.

Overlapping labor-related actions against Amazon span a variety of topics like the silencing of workers’ protected rights, the imposition of onerous physical demands, and underpayment.

Whole Foods

Operating a brick-and-mortar grocery store means customers, retail employees, and involvement in the food supply chain. For Amazon’s Austin, Texas-based WFM, this has translated into more than 500 lawsuits since April 2018, 10 months after its acquisition.

Aside from “other,” the Docket Alarm case tag most represented is personal injury. The defense firm tapped to represent WFM in 100 of these premise liability proceedings, brought mostly in New York and New Jersey, is Fishman McIntyre Levine Samasnky P.C. State courts not included in Docket Alarm database, or those that do not tag personal injury cases, may feature similar trends.

Other cases against WFM have come in relation to its food production and branding businesses. One suit said Amazon made false claims about hormone levels in its beef products while another claimed WFM’s 365-branded spices contained unsafe levels of heavy metals.

On the e-commerce end of the spectrum, class actions cropped up after Amazon discontinued free WFM delivery for Amazon Prime customers, with patrons asserting that Amazon revoked the benefit unfairly. Relatedly, others have argued that the process of cancelling their subscriptions was altogether too difficult.

Antitrust and Defense Firm Spotlight

Being a power player in e-commerce and attendant industries has exposed Amazon to antitrust scrutiny. According a Docket Alarm case search, Amazon has received nearly two dozen federal court antitrust complaints since July 2018.

One Southern District of New York case by retail and online booksellers alleged that Amazon and the “Big Five” book publishers worked in concert to illegally control the wholesale prices of print trade books. The defendants’ second motion to dismiss is pending after they successfully secured dismissal of the first complaint.

Another antitrust action brought in Amazon’s home district of Seattle, Washington accused the company of squeezing third-party sellers by forcing them agree to illegal price floors. In other words, sellers said, they were contractually prohibited from selling their goods for less on other e-commerce sites. In March, the court appointed Hagens Berman and Keller Postman  interim co-lead counsel and Quinn Emanuel and Keller Rohrback as members of a plaintiffs’ executive committee.

Relatedly, the Federal Trade Commission has flagged Amazon’s pricing policies and is said to be preparing to sue the company, following in the footsteps of several states. For instance, the District of Columbia’s attorney general took issue with the company’s purported dominance and unfair practices in 2021, but lost the case. Similarly, in September 2022, California sued the tech titan for enforcing anticompetitive contracts that allegedly harm price competition, echoing claims of the aforementioned suit brought in Seattle.

In the case by third-parties sellers, Amazon is represented by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, the former of whom is among the top firms defending Amazon. Other top firms and their respective most defended practice areas are as follows: Morgan Lewis (labor), Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker (motor vehicle accident defense), Littler Mendelson (employment), Fenwick & West (patent), and Perkins Coie (patent).