Granting summary judgment in favor of Gerber Products Co., a federal court judge in California held that the putative class action plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence that consumers were actually deceived by the labels on challenged baby food products.
Natalia Bruton sued “the world’s most trusted name in baby food,” alleging that Gerber deceived consumers with illegal nutrient content claims.
Gerber touted items like Banana Plum Grape and Butternut Squash & Harvest Apple as an “excellent source” and “good source” of various vitamins and minerals, as well as making claims that its products provide “Nutrition for Healthy Growth & Natural Immune Support,” she said.
Seeking class action status, the plaintiff also challenged sugar-related label statements such as “No Added Sugar” and “No Added Refined Sugar,” and argued that federal law requires that such claims be accompanied by a disclosure statement warning of the higher caloric level of the products.
U.S. District Court Judge Lucy H. Koh rejected both claims for a lack of evidence.
California’s unfair competition, false advertising, and consumer protection statutes are governed by a “reasonable consumer standard,” that requires plaintiffs to present evidence that “members of the public are likely to be deceived,” the judge explained. In the court’s view, Bruton failed to show that it was probable that a significant portion of the general consumer public or of targeted consumers, acting reasonably in the circumstances, would be misled.
The plaintiff’s “vague references” to FDA regulations as evidence of how reasonable consumers would view the labels “falls short,” Judge Koh wrote, and nothing in her expert declarations supported a likelihood of deception. Bruton’s own deposition testimony noted that she found the Gerber products “misleading” because they “make you believe that their product, like I said, has something that [a competing brand] doesn’t have.”
“Although couched in language of misrepresentation, this testimony suggests only that Bruton relied on Gerber’s label statements in making her purchasing decision vis-à-vis [the competitor],” the court said.
A few isolated examples of deception are insufficient to withstand a summary judgment, the judge said, granting the motion in favor of Gerber.
To read the order in Bruton v. Gerber Products Co., click here.
Why it matters: The decision emphasized the need for plaintiffs to provide evidence to meet the “reasonable consumer standard,” with more than just “a few isolated examples of actual deception” in order to survive summary judgment. The court also noted that while consumer surveys are not required, the plaintiff’s attempt to rely on her own testimony and expert declarations was insufficient to establish “that a significant portion of the general consumer public or of targeted consumers, acting reasonably in the circumstances, could be misled” by Gerber’s nutrient content and sugar-related claims.