Update: Court Throws Out Class Action Claiming Yogurt Wasn’t “Yogurt”

activia-vanillaSeveral past Legal Pulse posts have discussed food labeling class action suits against yogurt makers, including this one on a case against Clover-Stornetta Farms for its allegedly misleading use of the term “evaporated cane juice.” That suit is currently pending in the Food Court Northern District of California.

Another yogurt-related class action suit, this one claiming that the use of milk protein concentrate (MPC) rendered Activa yogurt misbranded, recently reached a welcome end in the Southern District of New York (Conroy v. The Dannon Company, Inc.).

Conroy alleged injury under a number of state common law theories as well as provisions of New York General Business Law. None of those theories or laws are referenced beyond the opinion’s first page; instead, Judge Vincent Briccetti devoted his analysis entirely to whether MPC is an allowable “other optional ingredient” under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards for “yogurt.” If it wasn’t, Conroy’s claims would no doubt have proceeded.

Had one started reading in the middle of the opinion, one would fairly think the complaining entity was FDA, not a random yogurt consumer. Judge Briccetti found that FDA’s views on yogurt were that MPC was permitted as an “other optional ingredient.” FDA’s views, Judge Briccetti wrote, were contained in “a FDA-issued memorandum from the Milk Safety Branch to all Regional Food and Drug Directors.” The document memorialized an answer given by an FDA employee at a Regional Milk Seminar to a question specifically on MPC.

A memo restating the answer to a question at an obscure seminar in 2004 circulated among regional FDA directors — not exactly our idea of good federal rulemaking practice, but enough, it seems to get a class action suit dismissed. That is what Judge Briccetti ultimately did do: grant Dannon’s motion to dismiss as well as its request that the plaintiff be prohibited from amending her complaint.

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