A federal court in New Jersey has granted in part the motion to dismiss filed by the Campbell Soup Co. in litigation alleging that consumers were misled by the company’s lower-sodium labels, believing they were a healthier alternative to regular soups, which allegedly contain about the same levels of sodium as the more expensive low-sodium versions. Smajlaj v. Campbell Soup Co., No. 10-1332 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D.N.J., decided March 23, 2011). The plaintiffs seek to represent a nationwide class of consumers, and named plaintiff Rosa Smajlaj has voluntarily dismissed her claims, so the suit will proceed with four other New Jersey residents as named plaintiffs.
The defendant sought to dismiss the claims under the plausibility pleading standard established in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), and on the basis of federal preemption. The court determined that the claims of misleading labels were not preempted under federal law because they mirror federal requirements and thus would not impose inconsistent requirements on the defendant. Claims that the labels omitted information, however, were preempted according to the court, because the “Plaintiffs would have this Court impose a labeling requirement for the nutrient content of sodium that is inconsistent with the FDA’s nutritional labeling regulations.”
As to the claims raised under the state consumer fraud law, the court determined that the plaintiffs had alleged misleading representations with sufficient particularity to satisfy the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court also found that the plaintiffs had adequately alleged their express warranty claims. Whether some of the class claimants had sufficiently alleged reliance on unspecified “marketing materials” and the company’s Website claims about the product was a matter the court deferred to its ruling on a motion to certify the class. One plaintiff had sufficiently alleged such reliance.