Nick Suciu Named Interim Co-Lead Counsel in Suave Antiperspirant Benzene Lawsuit

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June 2, 2023

by Brian Eckert

Milberg’s Nick Suciu has been appointed Interim Co-Lead Counsel in a consumer fraud class action lawsuit against Unilever alleging Suave antiperspirant products contain the carcinogen benzene. Unilever has tried unsuccessfully to escape the suit, which is proceeding through U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Anyone who purchased Suave 24-hour Protection Powder aerosol antiperspirant may be automatically eligible to join this class action lawsuit.

Case Background

Milberg attorneys Virginia Whitener, Nick Suciu III, Jennifer Czeisler, and Russell Busch filed a class action complaint, Barnes et al v. Unilever United States Incorporated, in November 2021.

The lawsuit claims that Suave 24-hour Protection Powder aerosol antiperspirant is defective because it contains the chemical benzene and Unilever did not disclose this on the product’s label. Benzene, a substance known to cause cancer in humans, offers no therapeutic deodorant or antiperspirant benefit, according to the complaint.

Independent testing laboratory Valisure detected high levels of benzene in several body spray products and requested an FDA recall of them. Following an internal review, Unilever later issued a voluntary recall of Suave 24-Hour Protection Aerosol Antiperspirant Powder in 4 oz. and 6 oz. sizes and Suave 24-Hour Protection Aerosol Antiperspirant Fresh in the 6 oz. size due to elevated benzene levels.

The FDA has determined that benzene should not be used in standard pharmaceutical production because of its unacceptable toxicity.

Valisure testing found benzene concentrations of 5.21 ppm in Suave 24 Hour Protection Powder Aerosol—2.6 times the FDA concentration limit. FDA lists benzene as a “Class 1 solvent” that should not be used in the manufacture of drug substances or drug products due to their “unacceptable toxicity.”

Antiperspirants are regulated by the FDA as over-the-counter drugs. Valisure asks the FDA in its petition to “clarify that there is no acceptable level of benzene in regulated health products.”

Studies have shown benzene exposure can lead to the development of blood cell cancers, such as leukemia.

Court Denies Unilever Efforts to Dismiss Case

Unilever attempted in 2022 and 2023 to have the claims thrown out. On both occasions, the Illinois federal judge overseeing the case ordered slight modifications but held that the lawsuit could continue.

  • In a July 2022 order, the judge rejected Unilever’s arguments that the plaintiffs lacked standing and failed to plausibly allege an injury. He dismissed some claims but permitted others to stand, pending an amended complaint.
  • Unilever later tried to have the amended complaint dismissed, again arguing that the plaintiffs’ failed to state a claim. For a second time, the judge trimmed the suit but allowed it to proceed, rejecting Unilever’s primary contention that the claims are preempted by federal law.

A court order dated March 11, 2023 ordered the parties to meet and attempt to agree on a schedule for discovery and pretrial proceedings.

Appointment of Interim Class Counsel

The latest development in the Suave antiperspirant benzene lawsuit was an order granting the plaintiffs’ motion for the appointment of Interim Class Counsel. Nick Suciu was named in the order as part of the team that will represent the plaintiffs and further their claims

The work of Interim Co-Lead Counsel involves coordinating, preparing, and presenting plaintiffs’ claims; supervising the efforts of plaintiffs’ counsel to ensure pretrial preparation is effective, efficient, expeditious, and economical; delegating the work responsibilities of plaintiffs’ counsel; directing document filings and appearing at court hearings; facilitating communications between plaintiffs and defendant; conducting settlement negotiations; and performing other duties deemed necessary by the court in connection with the litigation.

Suciu is Senior Counsel at Milberg who has worked on numerous mislabeling class actions and has extensive experience and knowledge in the areas of FDA regulations, advertising, and marketing law. Among his notable case victories are $5 million, $9 million, and $12 million class settlements.

Milberg has been active in filing lawsuits over the benzene content of consumer products. In addition to the Suave antiperspirant benzene case, we are currently litigating cases that allege undisclosed benzene in several brands of dry shampoo, including Sol de Janeiro, Klorane, Paul Mitchell, and Not Your Mother’s.

Since 1965, our attorneys have filed thousands of class action cases that have recovered billions of dollars for our clients and effectuated meaningful corporate reforms.