LOS ANGELES – One attorney's mission may be seen by another as "vexatious," but Joel D. Joseph, co-founder and chairman of Made in the USA Foundation says his litigious behavior is based on a belief that the U.S. needs to be a strong manufacturing nation.
"I started the Made in the USA Foundation in 1989 because I believe that if the U.S. loses its manufacturing base that it will no longer be a wealthy nation," Joseph told the Northern California Record.
Made in the USA Foundation is a non-profit organization co-founded by Joseph with matching grants from United Auto Works and Ford Motor Co. The foundation, according to its website, is dedicated to promoting products manufactured and/or assembled in the U.S. The foundation's first home was in Washington, D.C. but moved to Los Angeles in 2007.
"Made in the USA Foundation encourages American values globally, raising the bar concerning minimum wages, environmental standards, labor rights, and human rights, including eliminating child labor," the foundation website says. "The organization also helps create good-paying jobs in the USA and a sustainable, environmentally sound and healthy economy."
All of that is an equal match to its chairman, the 1973 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center who regularly takes the foundation's mission to the courts. In 1999, Joseph organized The American Crafts Project to help independent artisans defend themselves against copyright infringements and, to date, has filed more than 25 federal lawsuits that have resulted in three injunctions against the sale of imported products that violated copyright laws.
The foundation also points to an additional 20 cases "settled on favorable terms" against businesses such as Target, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and K-Mart. Joseph prepared and filed all of those cases and personally argued all of the injunction motions, according to the foundation's website.
Joseph also drafted and lobbied the federal government two major pieces of legislation, The American Automobile Labeling Act, which requires country-of-origin labels on cars and trucks, and the Country of Origin Labeling Act (COOL).
Joseph has a considerable history filing lawsuits as a pro se plaintiff against big companies that have also included Costco and Trader Joe’s. His complaints against those two companies largely are over ground beef and generic pharmaceuticals labeling that Joseph claims violate the Tariff Act and other state and federal laws.
Joseph also was the attorney who filed the 2011 Kwikset Corp. v. Superior Court (Benson), a case that went to the California Supreme Court. In that case, the high court ruled that plaintiffs deceived by a product’s label into making a purchase they otherwise would not have suffer loss of property or money. That property or monetary loss gives consumers standing to sue under the state's unfair competition and false advertising laws.
That same year, Joseph suffered a serious blow to his reputation. Joseph was disbarred in Maryland Oct. 27, 2011, for misrepresenting himself as a Maryland resident in applications for pro hac vice admission in California shortly after he moved there. The Maryland Court of Appeals rejected his argument that he still was a Maryland resident because he remained registered to vote in that state and had not decided to no longer live in Maryland.
Joseph says even that battle isn't over.
"I was wrongfully disbarred in Maryland because a lower court adopted verbatim the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law of bar counsel," he said. "They claimed that I filed a pro hac vice motion in California and was not a Maryland resident at the time. However, I was a Maryland resident and domiciliary at the time. I paid Maryland income taxes and was registered to vote there. I will continue to seek readmission."
It hasn't stopped Joseph from filing pro se or partnering with an attorney, making him the foil of various companies' counsel.
Trenton Norris, a partner in Arnold & Porter's San Francisco office, represented Costco before a federal judge in the Joel D.Joseph v. Costco Wholesale Corporation et al case, in which Joseph claimed the retailer and drug maker Apotex Corp. sold generic Lipitor made overseas without proper labeling. Norris complained to the judge, while challenging Joseph's motion for summary judgment, that Joseph ignored local rules that required he meet with Costco’s counsel before filing the motion.
In March, Norris was representing CVS when he filed a motion asking Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Nancy Newman to declare Joseph a "vexatious litigant."
Norris, citing 10 cases Joseph lost in the last seven years, accused Joseph of “repeated frivolous, misleading and dilatory tactics” in other cases. If a California judge ever declared Joseph a vexatious litigant, he would be barred from filing future suits in the state without a judge's approval.
"I am not a vexatious litigant," Joseph said. "Every case that I bring has very strong merit."
As in the CVS and Costco cases, the latest of which Joseph filed March 11, much of his recent attention has been on major corporations importing pharmaceuticals without the country of origin on their labels.
"This is exceptionally important," Joseph said. "Eighty percent of our prescription drugs are imported from China and India where quality is suspect and inspections rare. I advise consumers to demand that their pharmacies inform customers of the country of origin of their drugs."