Food and Beverage Deception Cases Still Must Pass the “Are you Serious?” Test

coca colaBecerra v. The Coca-Cola Co., No. 17-cv-05916, 2018 WL 1070823 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 27, 2018)

The Skinny:  It is not Coca-Cola’s fault if you think Diet Coke should make you lose weight. In the highly litigious area of false advertising claims, this case reminds us that, first and foremost, zealous plaintiffs must remain reasonable in their assertions. The level of proof needed to demonstrate that a reasonable consumer may be misled by a product’s advertising demands more than just merely stating so. See Manuel v. Pepsi-Cola Co. and Excevarria v. Dr. Pepper Snapple Grp. for very similar rulings.
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In the Third and Eleventh Circuits, Ascertainability Continues to be a Major Certification Hurdle

dominoIn Re: Tropicana Orange Juice Mktg. & Sales Practices Litig., No. 2:11-cv-07382, 2018 WL 497071 (D.N.J. Jan. 22, 2018)

The Skinny:  This is the latest food and beverage case from within the Third Circuit to solidify Carrera’s heightened ascertainability standard. The standard is particularly difficult to meet where the plaintiffs’ proposed plan for ascertaining the class cannot be credibly tied to information or documentation that is demonstrably (and not just theoretically) available.

The Meat and Potatoes: Plaintiffs brought claims against Tropicana for the alleged mislabeling and misbranding of Tropicana’s orange juice product, Tropicana Pure Premium (“TPP”). Plaintiffs alleged that Tropicana’s marketing of the product as “pure, natural and fresh from the grove” was false and deceptive because flavoring is allegedly added.

In addition to finding a lack of predominance, Judge William J. Martini of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied class certification on ascertainability grounds. The Court rejected the plaintiffs’ expert’s proposal to create a computer program to identify class members based on retailer loyalty card numbers and information submitted by consumers.  The Court determined that the vast majority of relevant retailers lacked the ability to compile the very data plaintiffs’ expert claimed would be required.
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Vita Coco

On September 26, 2018, the Honorable Judge Robert N. Scola entered an Order denying class certification in a consumer deceptive advertising case. Plaintiffs claimed that the use of the phrase “born in brazil” on containers of Vita Coco, the leading brand of coconut water, caused them to believe that Vita Coco was manufactured in or sourced exclusively from Brazil, when it was not. Plaintiffs sought to certify injunctive classes under FRCP Rule 23(b)(2) and damages classes under Rule 23(b)(3).

The Court denied class certification for two primary reasons. First, the Court found that the named plaintiffs lacked standing to represent the injunctive classes where there was no real and immediate threat of future injury. The Court observed that any alleged future harm suffered by the plaintiffs was self-inflicted:
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YogurtPodpeskar v. Dannon Co., Inc., 16-cv-8478 (KBF) (S.D.N.Y., Dec. 3, 2017)

The Southern District of New York joins the list of federal courts that have recently rejected potential class action suits brought against restaurant and food manufacturers for the alleged false advertisement of their food products as “GMO-free.
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Chips Have you ever taken a sip of your Grande Starbucks latte and thought to yourself with disgust, “I can’t believe that barista topped off my latte with milk foam!” Or polished off an eight-piece bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and found yourself staring longingly into the bottom of the greasy container, wishing for more?

If your answer to these questions is no, then you are probably a “reasonable consumer,” according to recent court rulings in “slack-fill” class action lawsuits.
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