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.
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 a $25 million jury verdict on behalf of Ed Hardeman, 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 is also 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 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.)
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 Harralson 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.
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).