A federal court in Minnesota has dismissed a putative class action alleging that General Mills misleads consumers by labeling its Nature Valley products as “Natural” or “100% Natural” when they actually contain highly processed ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose dextrin syrup and maltodextrin. Chin v. General Mills, Inc., No. 12-2150 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Minn., decided June 3, 2013). Additional details about the original complaint appear in Issue 453 of this Update.
The court dismissed all counts relating to Nature Valley products that the plaintiffs did not purchase, according to their first amended complaint, ruling that they lacked standing to bring such claims. The court dismissed a breach of written warranty claim brought under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act because labeling a product as “100% Natural” is not a written warranty under the law; rather, it is a “product description.” Implied warranty claims under the Act and state law were also dismissed because the applicable sections “do not apply to remote purchasers of products” as they require the existence of a contract between the plaintiff and defendant.
The court also dismissed express warranty claims under state law, agreeing with General Mills that its “100% Natural” claim could not be “viewed in isolation and must be read in the context of the entire package, including the ingredient panel,” and “that the specific terms included in the ingredient list must inform the more general term ‘100% Natural.’” According to the court, “the specific terms determine the scope of the express warranty that was allegedly made to the Plaintiffs.” The plaintiffs’ fraud-based claims were dismissed because they failed to satisfy the heightened pleading standards of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). In this regard, the court stated, “Plaintiffs make several statements regarding ingredients that are ‘highly processed,’ but fail to plead what they understood this term to mean and how it does or does not relate to the ‘100% Natural’ statement.”