A federal court in California has denied the motion to dismiss putative class claims that Mott’s LLP deceives consumers by placing “No sugar Added” on its 100% Apple Juice label. Rahman v. Mott’s LLP, No. 13-3482 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., order entered April 8, 2014). Information about the court’s prior decision dismissing without prejudice most of the claims in the plaintiff’s first amended complaint appears in Issue 511 of this Update.
As to the plaintiff’s second amended complaint, the court disagreed with the defendant’s argument that an ongoing u.s. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rulemaking pertaining to Nutrition Facts label disclosures about the presence or absence of added sugars required dismissal of the action under the primary jurisdiction doctrine. While the court agreed that food regulation is within FDA’s purview, it stated, “plaintiff’s claims do not concern statements made on the apple juice’s Nutrition Facts label; rather, plaintiff’s claims relate to nutrient content claims made on the product’s front label.” Thus, the court determined that the claims “are not implicated by the March 3, 2014, proposed rule.” The court refused, as well, to speculate whether FDA would finalize the rule and if that action would require rulemaking as to other parts of a food product label.
The court also found that the plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts to show that a reasonable consumer would be deceived by Mott’s “No sugar Added” labeling. According to the court, the plaintiff had “remedied the defects identified by the Court” as to his first amended complaint. In the new complaint, the plaintiff alleges that “while shopping, he observed that the label of one of Mott’s competitor apple juices, Treetop, did not contain a ‘No sugar Added’ claim [and] that this difference between the labels caused him to believe that Mott’s 100% Apple Juice contained less sugar and was healthier than Treetop’s apple juice.” He also identified additional competitor products lacking the “No sugar Added” claim and containing “approximately the same amount of sugar and calories per ounce as Mott’s 100% Apple Juice.”
The court further determined that the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged injury and damages despite indicating that he intended to purchase the company’s product in the future, albeit less of it. According to the court, “plaintiff alleges that he entered into more transactions and parted with more money than he would have absent the misrepresentations. ‘That increment, the extra money paid, is economic injury and affords the consumer standing to sue.’” The plaintiff’s negligent misrepresentation claim will also proceed, with the court finding that the plaintiff adequately pleaded justifiable reliance.