On June 28, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismissed a federal class action against three cosmetic companies accused of falsely advertising their products as “cruelty-free.” The suit was filed in February of this year against Estee Lauder, Avon and Mary Kay, seeking $100 million in compensatory damages, plus punitives, on the grounds that the companies engaged in product testing on animals despite representations to the contrary. Plaintiffs asserted claims for violations of California's Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, alleging that defendants profited millions from consumers like plaintiffs who would not have purchased from companies that tested their products on animals.
U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney dismissed the suit without prejudice.
In dismissing the suit, Judge Carney explained that the plaintiffs had failed to establish they suffered any injury. Carney found that plaintiffs only contended in general terms that they purchased a ‘multitude’ of Estee Lauder’s and Mary Kay’s products in reliance on alleged misrepresentations regarding animal testing and would not otherwise have done so. Plaintiffs failed to allege they relied on any particular affirmative misrepresentation or actionable omission, that they purchased any specific product in reliance on those misrepresentations or omissions, or that they suffered a personal, concrete, and palpable injury resulting from those purchases.
To read the court’s opinion in Stanwood et al. v. Estee Lauder, click here.
Why it matters: In addition to the prospect of false labeling actions, cosmetic companies face potential class actions over false advertising. However, plaintiffs need particularized facts to support their fraud-based claims, even under California’s consumer-friendly statutes. Although the cosmetic companies were victorious in their motion to dismiss, Judge Carney did allow the plaintiffs 20 days to file amended complaints, so this case may not be resolved quite yet.