Price FixingScott Wagner and Lori Lustrin discuss with Law360 the new wave of antitrust cases emerging in the food and beverage industry.

Price-fixing cases over the past decade have read like a virtual electronics product materials list. Government investigators and civil plaintiffs have pursued actions involving a wide array of electronic parts ranging from passive components like capacitors and inverters to large, high-cost components such as LCDs and cathode ray tubes. Recently, however, a new wave of antitrust cases has emerged, and it looks far more like a grocery list.

It is now big food’s turn in the crosshairs of government regulators and civil plaintiffs. Indeed, over the past five years alone, high-profile price-fixing cases have been launched against the manufacturers of everything from milk, to mushrooms, to the biggest protein staples in the American diet: tuna, chicken and pork. And, in the past week alone, conspiracy claims have been lodged against manufacturers of beef and farm-raised salmon.

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water

Water: two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. It seems simple enough, but for companies selling bottled water, liability lurks below the surface. According to a recent lawsuit, consumers care not only about what is in their water; they care about from where it comes from. Perhaps more importantly, according to the plaintiffs—so do regulators.

In Patane v. Nestle Waters N. Am. Inc., 314 F.Supp.3d 375 (D.Conn. 2018), Nestle faces allegations that it made millions of dollars by fraudulently labeling Poland Spring Water. The complaint, filed by plaintiffs from nine different states, claims that Nestle bilked consumers out of millions by selling tap water under the guise of spring water. Continue Reading Mislabeling Claims Against Poland Spring Water Survive Dismissal

CBDHistorically, all forms of cannabis—both hemp and marijuana—have been federally designated as illegal substances. That all changed this past December when the President signed the Agricultural Improvement Act (2018 Farm Bill) into law, declassifying hemp as a Schedule 1 substance.

As a result, cannabidiol (CBD)—the non-psychoactive compound found in hemp known for its relaxing and healing properties—has been catapulted into the national spotlight. With the green light from Congress, hemp-derived CBD oils, lotions, and gummies formerly found only in states where recreational marijuana is legal, are now making their way onto store shelves nationally. Continue Reading FDA to Consider Regulation of CBD in Food

Dishing Out the Latest F&B Litigation Updates: Part 4

Doss v. General Mills, No. 18-cv-61924 (S.D. Fla Aug.17, 2018)

The Skinny:  Last fall, a jury in California awarded $289 million to a plaintiff who alleged he contracted cancer from the glyphosate in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer.  Now that a bellwether trail has concluded with a substantial plaintiff win, attention shifts to the Southern District of Florida where a case is proceeding against General Mills alleging that Cheerios contains levels of the same chemical. Also see Paracha v. General Mills Inc., No. 2:18-cv-07659 for a similar case filed in a different jurisdiction. Continue Reading In the Wake of Monsanto, All Eyes are on the Cheerios Glyphosate Case

Dishing Out the Latest F&B Litigation Updates: Part 3

cranberry juiceHilsley v. Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., No. 17-cv-2335, 2018 WL 6245894 (S.D. Cal. Nov. 29, 2018)

The Skinny: Malic acid is a common food ingredient used for flavor and pH control. Because of its prevalence and varying uses, a flurry of class action cases were recently filed against companies that use malic acid while simultaneously claiming “no artificial flavors” exist in their product. In Hilsley, a California federal judge granted certification against Ocean Spray. Continue Reading Malic Acid: Newest Culprit in “Natural” Marketing Case Trend

Dishing Out the Latest F&B Litigation Updates: Part 2

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

Dishing Out the Latest F&B Litigation Updates: Part 1

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. Continue Reading In the Third and Eleventh Circuits, Ascertainability Continues to be a Major Certification Hurdle

beverage lawMillerCoors is suing Bud Light for its unlike-them-we-don’t-use-corn-syrup campaign. (You probably saw the ad’s launch during this year’s Super Bowl, but, just in case you didn’t, go ahead and click here.) Hitting back, MillerCoors filed a lawsuit against Anhauser-Busch last Thursday, asking a federal court to immediately end Bud Light’s campaign (or, better put, “nip it in the Bud”), and make it pay MillerCoors back for whatever it earned from the no-corn-syrup campaign, as well as MillerCoors’ attorney’s fees, too.

This case highlights yet another high-profile example of how food-and-beverage makers, among others, can turn to the Lanham Act for seeking potent remedies against foul-playing competitors. And, although the Lanham Act is often viewed as mainly (if not exclusively) for trademark actions, this case also reminds us that the Lanham Act can do far more. Continue Reading MillerCoors Turns to Lanham Act to Nip Rival’s Ads in the “Bud”

LabelThe saying goes, knowledge equals power. For plaintiffs asserting claims for injunctive relief on behalf of putative classes, however, the Mott’s Apple Juice case demonstrates just the opposite.

The Northern District of California’s recent order denying reconsideration of its summary judgment ruling in Rahman v. Mott’s LLP, 2018 WL 4585024 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 25, 2018) holds that a plaintiff cannot “plausibly claim” that he will suffer future harm if he is now “fully aware” of what the allegedly deceptive statement means. Continue Reading Knowledge Is Not Power for Class Action Plaintiffs

Price FixingWhen people think about this year’s food industry trends, they may envision app-based grocery delivery services, the Keto diet, and restaurants that serve all locally-sourced ingredients.

But inside federal courthouses across the country, the Department of Justice and civil plaintiffs have been highlighting a darker trend within the food business: price fixing.

Under United States antitrust law, price fixing is defined as an agreement among competitors that raises, lowers, or stabilizes prices or competitive terms. The U.S. antitrust laws require that each company establish prices on its own without agreeing with a competitor on a price to charge consumers. The driving force behind our antitrust laws is simple: when competitors agree to restrict competition and inhibit a free market, it results in higher prices. And an agreement to restrict production, sales, or output of a product or service is just as illegal as direct price fixing because reducing the supply of a product or service drives up its price. Continue Reading Price Fixing in the Food Industry