On February 22, 2016, the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit revived a putative class action brought by named plaintiffs Alessandra Balser and Ruth Kresha on behalf of consumers against The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. The plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that Hain’s use of the word “natural” and “100% vegetarian” on its products’ packaging is misleading and deceptive under California’s consumer protection law because the products contain synthetic ingredients.

Judge Real of the Central District of California dismissed the complaint without leave to amend in a brief opinion in 2013.  Finding that “it is undisputed that ‘natural’ is a vague and ambiguous term,” the District Court rejected as implausible the plaintiffs’ definition of that term as “existing in or produced by nature; not artificial.” In particular, the Court found that “shampoos and lotions do not exist in nature, there are no shampoo trees, cosmetics are manufactured.”  Citing Hain’s clarifications on its product labels and website, the Court further found that the company’s uses of the term “100% vegetarian” to mean “without animal products” and without “parabens, sulfates, or phthalates” were sufficiently clear that no reasonable consumer could be deceived.

Rejecting the District Court’s analysis, a unanimous panel concluded on appeal that the plaintiffs’ definitions of “natural” as “free of synthetic ingredients” and of “100% vegetarian” as “derived from plants” were plausible under California law.  Further, the Court of Appeals found the clarifications and ingredient list on the website and label, respectively, created a factual issue regarding the impact on consumers that is not determinable on the pleadings alone.  The Court reversed and remanded.

The Court of Appeals’ opinion can be found at:  http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca9/14-55074/14-55074-2016-02-22.html

The District Court’s opinion can be found at: https://jenner.com/system/assets/assets/9288/original/gov.uscourts.cacd.568325.38.0.pdf