Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and limitations on court operations, food litigation filings continue to exceed numbers seen in prior years.  As our Food Litigation colleagues wrote in Law360 (sub. req.), food litigation filings are anticipated to surpass 2019’s record numbers by nearly 20%, even though general commercial litigation filings across all industries have decreased significantly.
Continue Reading PC Food Litigation Index: Q3 2020

The Second Quarter of 2020 has demonstrated increased filings in the food litigation space. Amidst reduced court operations and a significant decrease to general commercial litigation filings attributable to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the number of food litigation cases filed so far this are substantially higher than this point last year. As of June 2020, more than 100 food litigation matters have been filed so far this year.

One of the surprising trends emerging in the second half of 2019 was the increase in filings in New York. Traditionally, California has been the most common destination for food litigation filings. At the end of 2019, New York courts saw more cases filed, and this trend has continued into 2020. More than 50 food litigation, or approximately half, of all food litigation matters filed year-to-date June 2020 were filed in New York courts.
Continue Reading PC Food Litigation Index: Q2 2020

With 61 new filings in the first three months of 2020, 2020 is on-track with 2019 to be a big year in food and beverage litigation. About a third of new cases allege defendants misleadingly claim their product contains vanilla, while the remainder of cases are an even mix between cases alleging misleading health misrepresentations, natural claims, false-fact, and Proposition 65.

Vanilla. We wrote about the uptick in “vanilla” cases in our 2019 Food Litigation Year in Review, and the early numbers from 2020 confirm this remains a popular area for plaintiffs. There were 21 new “vanilla” cases filed in 2020 out of 61 total cases. All but one of these cases was filed in New York federal courts by the same group of plaintiffs’ counsel—Sheehan & Associates and Reese LLP. The complaints allege that “vanilla” claims on a wide variety of products (from milk to herbal tea) are false because the products derive their vanilla flavor in part from vanilla flavoring, rather than vanilla beans or vanilla extract. Vanilla flavoring, plaintiffs allege, contains non-vanilla flavors that reasonable consumer do not expect in products labeled vanilla.
Continue Reading PC Food Litigation Index: Q1 2020

Perkins Coie is pleased to present its fourth annual Food Litigation Year in Review 2019, offering a summary of the past year’s key litigation outcomes, regulatory developments, and filing data. Using metrics from our proprietary database, developed by our food litigation team in order to track and understand trends in this area, 2019’s Year in Review again reports an increase in class action litigation, with a record-breaking 173 new lawsuits filed. The upward filing trends in the class action landscape are mirrored in other industries and in the prosecution of related claims: putative class actions against the pet food and dietary supplement industries were on the rise in 2019, as were Proposition 65 warning notices.
Continue Reading Food Litigation Year in Review 2019

July was a hot month in food litigation. There were twenty-eight new filings, which puts total new food litigation filings at about 100 in 2019.  More than half of the new filings were in California state and federal court, with several new filings in D.C. Superior Court and federal court in Illinois and Florida.

Plaintiffs in several new cases allege that defendant’s foods or beverages contain heavy metals, and defendants had a duty to disclose the presence of those metals to consumers.  In Labajo v. Welch Foods, Inc., 5:19-cv-01306 (C.D. Cal.), for example, the plaintiff alleges that Welch Foods fails to warn individuals that Welch’s White Grape Juice and Concord Grape Juice products expose consumers to heightened levels of heavy metals.  Plaintiffs allege Welch’s has a duty to disclose that the products contain metals independent of any duty imposed by Proposition 65.  Likewise, in Arellano v. Mead Johnson Nutrition Co., 2:19-cv-06462 (C.D. Cal.), plaintiff alleges that testing has found Mead Johnson’s Enfamil Premium infant formula contains high levels of the contaminants arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury, noting that the levels of lead are above the USFDA Provisional Tolerable Intake Level for children six years and under.  
Continue Reading PC Food Litigation Index: July 2019

There were seventeen new cases filed in May, putting total filings for the year at seventy-two. By this time last year, plaintiffs had filed sixty-nine food and beverage cases. Most of the new filings were in California, with a few in New York and one in Missouri. All seventeen of the new cases were false labeling cases.

In a continued expansion of the “sustainability/human rights” cases, several tuna companies were sued in the Northern District of California for allegedly misleading consumers about whether their tuna is dolphin safe. Plaintiffs allege that the tuna suppliers use fishing tactics that can be harmful to dolphins, rendering their “Dolphin Safe” labels misleading under California law and similar laws from all fifty states. These cases evoke similar human rights supply chain cases pursued, largely without success, in the last few years in the Ninth Circuit including the Chipotle GMO supply chain case, Schneider v. Chipotle Mexica Grill, Inc., and the recent Ninth Circuit omissions case, Hodsdon v. Mars.

Other cases of note include DiGregorio v. Kellogg Sales Company, a Northern District of New York case alleging that Kellogg misleadingly marketed high-sugar cereals as healthy. This case mirrors Hadley v. Kellogg Sales Co., which currently pending in the Northern District of California. Plaintiffs in Hadley and DiGregorio make the same claims and are represented by the same plaintiffs’ counsel.
Continue Reading PC Food Litigation Index: May 2019

With fifteen new cases filed in April, total filings on the year are slightly down from last year—there have been sixty-nine total new filings in 2019 compared with seventy-seven by this time last year. Most new filings were in California. Only one new case was filed in New York, down from six last month.

Most of the new cases were false labeling cases, with only one slack fill and two all-natural cases.  Plaintiffs in Shand v. Original New York Seltzer, 19STCV14020 (La. Supp. Ct.), alleged that defendant seltzer beverages are labeled as though they are a product of New York, when the drink is neither bottled in New York nor contains New York water. Shand adds to a recent trend of similar “origin” lawsuits, including several suits last month challenging coffee manufacturers’ characterization of beans as “Kona-style” when they were not grown on the Big Island. Tea beverages were under fire in April. Plaintiffs in several cases alleged that defendants misleadingly labeled their tea products as providing energy from ginseng when the products do not contain detectable amounts of ginseng.

On the natural front, plaintiffs in one case alleged that defendants misleadingly labeled their parmesan cheese product as “all natural” when it contains starch and potassium sorbate. In another, plaintiffs claim defendant misleading labeled its tapenade as “all natural,” even though it contains xanthan gum.
Continue Reading PC Food Litigation Index: April 2019

As we end the first quarter of 2019, we are seeing that the pace of class action filings in the food and beverage industry is consistent with the pace we saw in 2018.  California and New York continue to be hotbeds for activity with New York slightly outpacing California.

Most of the filings in the first quarter were related to general false labeling claims. Several separate cases targeted the “Kona” labels on coffee, claiming that the coffee products at issue do not originate from the Kona District of Hawaii’s Big Island. In addition, the labels of coconut-based products continued to come under attack.  The plaintiffs in several separate lawsuits alleged that the defendants’ coconut milk is misleadingly marketed as healthy, claiming that there are harmful cardiovascular effects associated with the consumption of fat from coconuts. Fruit snacks, a frequent target in this area of health-related claims, are also at the center of a new lawsuit. The plaintiff in Jones v. Welch Foods, Inc. contends that the packaging of defendant’s fruit snacks suggest that they are “nutritious, healthy, satiating and composed of non-synthetic ingredients.”

Among the more novel false fact challenges this month was a class action contesting the claims on A2 Milk Company’s milk, which is touted as “Easier on Digestion” and “Naturally Easy to Digest,” nixing the A1 proteins that “can cause you tummy discomfort.” The plaintiff argues that these claims are scientifically unsubstantiated, and that it is lactose—not A1 proteins—that causes digestive difficulties.


Continue Reading PC Food Litigation Index: March 2019

Perkins Coie is pleased to present its third annual Food Litigation Year in Review, offering a summary of the year’s key litigation outcomes, regulatory developments, and filing data. Last year, pointing to uncertainty at the appellate level, Perkins Coie predicted continued litigation in 2018. Using metrics from our proprietary database, developed by our food

Consumer class action suits continue to target food products that plaintiffs allege don’t actually contain the ingredients highlighted in their labels. For example, in one such false fact case last month, the plaintiff argued that the labels for Panera Bread’s blueberry bagels are misleading; allegedly, the bagels do not contain blueberries at all, only pieces of dyed sugar and flour meant to look like blueberries. (Similar past lawsuits have targeted blueberry-labeled products sold at Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme.)

Another similar false fact action, Lima v. Trader Joe’s, alleges that the name of Trader Joe’s Honey Nut O’s cereal conveys the false impression that the product is primarily sweetened by real honey, even though the plaintiff says it is sweetened mostly by sugar. In Morrison v. Nuts ‘N More, the plaintiff argued that the defendant’s White Chocolate Peanut Spread is unfairly and deceptively marketed, leading consumers to believe that it contains real white chocolate, defined as at least 3.5 percent milk fat. The defendant’s product allegedly “uses non-fat dry milk.”
Continue Reading PC Food Litigation Index: December 2018