On Feb. 23 U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow, a California federal judge, signed off on a class certification motion in large part in a suit over ConAgra Foods Inc.’s alleged mislabeling of its Wesson oil products as “100% natural,” even though the products contain genetically modified ingredients. Eleven statewide classes were certified, but the court rejected an injunctive relief class. Although Judge Morrow did trim claims from some of the classes, she is allowing the Plaintiffs to pursue certain other claims brought under the states’ various consumer protection statutes. Judge Marrow concluded that the Plaintiffs had satisfied five of the threshold requirements for class certification.
Nevertheless, Judge Morrow found that because the named Plaintiffs could only show that they might consider purchasing the product in the future if it was properly labeled, they couldn’t seek to represent injunctive relief classes because they couldn’t prove a real threat of repeated injury. The injunction they sought would have required ConAgra to cease marketing Wesson oils as 100 percent natural.
Judge Morrow concluded that the class is ascertainable because even though some class members may not have been injured by the 100 percent natural claim, every class member had been exposed to the alleged misrepresentation. ConAgra’s arguments that class members could not be identified because they couldn’t provide basic information about qualifying purchases were rejected by Judge Morrow. She said that the argument would effectively prohibit class actions involving low-priced consumer goods.
ConAgra acknowledged that millions of consumers purchased Wesson oil products during the class period, satisfying the numerosity requirement. All the class members were exposed to the 100 percent natural label, satisfying the requirement that all class members’ claims shared a common contention. Judge Morrow concluded that the fact that some class members may not have relied on the 100 percent natural claim on the label before making their purchase didn’t make the named Plaintiffs’ claims atypical of the rest of class members’ claims. The named Plaintiffs and class counsel were found to be adequate class representatives. The certified classes will consist of consumers from California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota and Texas.
Judge Morrow evaluated each of the 11 states separately under the various state consumer protection statutes on which the claims are based, and rejected claims from certain states after determining that individual issues predominated. Her decisions in many of the states turned on the significance of the allegedly misleading label, and whether it represented a material fact to consumers in each state.
Judge Morrow concluded that the Plaintiffs made a sufficient showing for the purpose of class certification that the 100 percent natural claim is material, and that consumers generally understand the term to mean that Wesson Oils do not contain GMOs. She found that they needn’t prove at this stage that every ConAgra consumer would find the 100 percent natural claim material, or whether they believed it meant the product contained no GMOs. It will be most interesting to see how this case winds up.
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.