A California federal court has dismissed a lawsuit brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Inc. (PETA) alleging Whole Foods Market Inc. falsely advertises its meat as ethically slaughtered. PETA v. Whole Foods Mkt., Inc., No. 15-4301 (N.D. Cal., order entered January 29, 2016). The organization challenged Whole Foods’ five-step Global Animal Partnership rating as misleading consumers because the assessments are allegedly insufficient. Details on PETA’s complaint appear in Issue 579 of this Update.
The court first found that PETA had standing to sue despite the organization’s not being a customer of Whole Foods. The court then turned to Whole Foods’ argument that PETA failed to plead its fraud allegations with the specificity required. The photos included with the complaint were insufficient to fulfill the requirement, the court found, because PETA did not clarify which aspects of the in-store displays were at issue. That vagueness also prevented the court from determining whether PETA’s claims were preempted—while labels may be governed by federal law, advertisements are subject to California consumer-protection statutes. Accordingly, the court granted Whole Foods’ motion to dismiss but granted PETA leave to amend the allegations.