Class Actions Challenging Use of “Natural” on Food Labels Begin to Founder

all naturalCross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com contributor page

For the past two years, plaintiffs’ lawyers have nourished The Legal Pulse with a steady diet of all-natural lawsuits. And by that we mean class actions alleging that the use of “natural” or “all natural” on a food product label is false or misleading under state law (normally, California law). Other than the occasional decision to put a lawsuit on hold so the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) can provide a formal definition for “natural” (which it has yet to do), these claims have mostly survived defendants’ efforts to dismiss them.

However, with four courts issuing decisions favorable to defendants in the past three months, these “all natural” claims may have become less appetizing.

Claims Rejected at Motion to Dismiss Stage. In order to prevail on claims that defendants’ use of “natural” violated California law, plaintiffs must prove that “reasonable consumers” relied on the claim and were deceived by it. Whether a business practice is deceptive normally presents a question of fact for a jury. But under California case law, judges in some instances can determine that as a matter of law, consumers are unlikely to be deceived. One area where judges have taken such action at the motion to dismiss stage is product packaging claims.

We’ve previously discussed Northern District of California Judge Koh’s opinion in Kane v. Chobani, the first of two recent rulings to dismiss a “natural” claim. Judge Koh ruled that because yogurt labels clearly disclosed the use of fruit or vegetable juice concentrate, the plaintiffs could not plausibly have been misled by Chobani’s “all natural” representation. Continue reading “Class Actions Challenging Use of “Natural” on Food Labels Begin to Founder”