A federal magistrate judge in Illinois has stayed a putative class action, the fourth of five brought against The Quaker Oats Co., alleging that the company deceives consumers by representing that its granola and oatmeal products are “heart healthy,” “wholesome,” and a “smart choice made easy,” when they actually contain trans fat. Askin v. The Quaker Oats Co., No. 11-111 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill., E. Div., order entered February 15, 2012). The named plaintiff, a New York resident, filed his complaint on behalf of a putative nationwide class after other similar suits were filed in California, where they are proceeding as one consolidated action. He unsuccessfully sought to consolidate all of the action in Illinois before a multidistrict litigation court.
Quaker and the intervening plaintiffs, who filed the California actions, asked the court to dismiss the Illinois action under the first-to-file rule, and the court denied the request despite finding that the suits are virtually identical and that the first-to-file doctrine applies. According to the court, “even where suits are mirror-images, dismissal of the later-filed action is rarely the appropriate remedy,” because dismissing a duplicative case could lead to statute of limitations problems. The movants apparently failed to present any arguments to assure the court that the Illinois plaintiff’s rights would not be prejudiced if his case were dismissed outright. The court found persuasive the Illinois plaintiff’s argument that the California plaintiffs would not succeed in certifying a nationwide class under California law because that state’s consumer protection statute cannot apply to him or any other non-California residents.
In this regard, the court stated, “If this court were to dismiss the current lawsuit and the California cases proceed to the outcome he predicts, there is a possibility that he will be foreclosed by the applicable statutes of limitations from pursuing the relief he seeks here, or at the very least, that the claims of some of the putative class members encompassed by the current proposed class definition will be foreclosed.” Accordingly, the court determined that staying the Illinois action “is the appropriate way to account for the first-tofile rule in this matter.” The case will be stayed “pending the outcome of the currently ripe motion to dismiss pending in California and, if the consolidated actions survive dismissal, the class certification decision in the California actions.”