A California federal court has denied class certification in a lawsuit consolidated from four separate actions alleging that Hain Celestial Seasonings Teas were produced from ingredients sprayed with pesticides and contained pesticide residue, thus allegedly precluding Hain from labeling its teas as “natural.” In re Hain Celestial Seasonings Prods. Consumer Litig., No. 13-1757 (C.D. Cal., order entered September 23, 2015). In its answer to the complaint, Hain argued the plaintiffs conflated the definitions of “natural” and “organic” in their arguments, noting that under the plaintiffs’ standards, even an apple picked directly from a tree would not be “natural” had pesticides been applied during its growth.
The court first chastised the plaintiffs for erroneous references and poorly timed supplemental filings. “Despite 18 months passing between the filing of this lawsuit and the filing of the Certification Motion, Plaintiffs effectively left the Court to drink from a fire hose, perhaps filled with tea, during the hearing,” the court wrote. “In some ways the Court still felt like a pig in search of truffles.”
Turning to the substantive arguments, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to prove the proposed class was ascertainable. “For example, Plaintiffs’ exhibits of one tea variety at issue, the Authentic Green Tea, and one variety not at issue, the Antioxidant Green Tea, only strengthens the conclusion that there is no administratively feasible way to determine class members,” the court said. “These two boxes are nearly identical. They both say “Natural Antioxidant Green Tea” in the upper left corner despite one of them being antioxidant and one being authentic. Plaintiffs essentially argue that the existence of a dragon instead of an elephant signals to potential class members which tea they purchased. The Court does not agree. The animals appear fungible. They are not tied to the essence of the tea, like a monkey to a banana or a rabbit to a carrot.” Accordingly, the court concluded the class could not be ascertained for monetary purposes and refused to grant certification, but allowed certification for injunctive relief.