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

On March 3, 2020, CLE International held the second day of Food Law: Navigating the Intersection Between Regulation of Litigation.  Now in its fifth year, the conference convenes individuals from the plaintiffs’ bar, academia, industry, and large law firms.

Perkins Coie’s David T. Biderman presented alongside attorneys from the plaintiff and defense bar on the panel “The Reasonable Consumer: An Interactive Debate.”  Panelists discussed recent trends in reasonable consumer decisions from the Second and Ninth Circuits and how these developments may affect the reasonable consumer doctrine moving forward.

Continue Reading Industry Insights: Day Two of the 5th Annual Food Law CLE Conference

On March 2, 2020, CLE International held the first day of Food Law: Navigating the Intersection Between Regulation of Litigation.  Now in its fifth year, the conference convenes individuals from the plaintiffs’ bar, academia, industry, and large law firms.

Today’s presentations included discussions of litigation case studies and regulatory issues facing food companies in today’s marketplace.  For example, in-house counsel detailed their perspectives on the FDA’s standards of identity, the agency’s definition of “healthy,” and other regulatory developments in the context of advances of food and nutritional science.  Specifically, general counsel for several food companies discussed issues with compliance with regulations finalized decades ago and ongoing efforts to update regulations using citizen petitions and other means to adapt to changes in food technology.  Other panels focused on advocacy strategies of non-governmental organizations through both regulation and litigation. Panelists from the Animal Legal Defense Fund and other public interest organizations discussed allegations of “humane-washing,” and an increase in lawsuits targeting animal welfare claims on consumer packaged goods (CPG) labeling.

Continue Reading Industry Insights: Day One of the 5th Annual Food Law CLE Conference

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

California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) issued finalized amendments on January 14, 2020, to its regulations that will become effective on April 1, 2020. Per OEHHA in its Final Statement of Reasons, the amendments “clarify how intermediate parties in the chain of distribution can satisfy their obligation to provide a warning” under Proposition 65. OEHHA also revised the level of knowledge required to trigger warning obligations for retail sellers.

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The Ninth Circuit delivered a win for food and beverage companies just in time for the new year in a published opinion in Becerra v. Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc., — F.3d —, 2019 WL 7287554 (9th Cir. Dec. 30, 2019).

Plaintiff in Becerra alleged that use of the word “diet” to describe Diet Dr Pepper is misleading because it suggests the product will help consumers lose weight. She relied on several scientific studies to allege that aspartame, the artificial sweetener in many diet sodas, “is likely to cause weight gain,” and “poses no benefit for weight loss.” She also relied on the results of a survey that, according to Plaintiff, showed the majority of soft-drink consumers believe “diet” soft drinks will help them lose or maintain their weight. After several rounds of motion to dismiss briefing, the district court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice, and plaintiff appealed.

Continue Reading Notable Ruling: Reasonable Consumers Not Misled by “Diet” Soft Drinks

On the heels of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent declarations regarding the safety of products containing cannabidiol (CBD), several companies have been hit with class action lawsuits alleging that that the company’s CBD-containing products are mislabeled and falsely advertised in violation of state law. Further class action litigation is expected given the language of the FDA’s recent pronouncements and the widespread availability of CBD-containing products. Companies should prepare for the possibility of litigation and actively seek to mitigate the risks of unwanted attention by FDA or putative class action plaintiffs.  

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On October 7, 2019, the California Chamber of Commerce (“CalChamber”) filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The lawsuit seeks to enjoin the Attorney General and private bounty hunter plaintiffs from enforcing Proposition 65 regulations relating to acrylamide in food.

Acrylamide is a chemical that forms in nearly all starchy plant-based foods that have undergone high-temperature cooking, including French fries, coffee, cereals, crackers, breads, tortilla chips, dried fruits and many other foods. Acrylamide has been present in food as long as humans have been cooking. The chemical forms from sugars and an amino acid that are naturally present in food—it is not intentionally added to foods, nor does it come from food packaging or the environment. Continue Reading Industry Insights: California Chamber of Commerce Challenges Proposition 65 Acrylamide Warning for Foods

Late last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 595, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019 (the “SAFE Banking Act”). The stated purpose of the SAFE Banking Act is to “increase public safety by ensuring access to financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses and service providers and reducing the amount of cash at such businesses.”

In particular, the bill would provide safe harbor and other protections under federal law to financial institutions and insurers that provide services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses. Under the proposed bill, such insurers and financial service providers would not be subject to liability under federal law solely for providing such services to, or investing the income derived from, cannabis-related legitimate businesses.

Continue Reading Industry Insights: SAFE Banking Act Passes House, Aims to Increase Access of Cannabis-Related Businesses to Banking Services

In an Order issued earlier this week, the D.C. Superior Court entered an important ruling on the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act (DCCPPA). While the ruling ultimately found that the plaintiffs in the suit had standing, it substantially trimmed the theories upon which that standing was grounded.

In Praxis Project et al. v. The Coca-Cola Company, two individuals and a non-profit organization lodged suit against the beverage manufacturer alleging that the manufacturer had made false, deceptive, and misleading representations about its sugar-sweetened beverages in violation of the DCCPPA. Among other things, the Plaintiffs alleged they had standing to lodge the suit based on the DCCPPA’s unique standing provisions.

Continue Reading Notable Ruling: D.C. Superior Court Issues Ruling on Standing Under DCCPPA