A federal judge in California has granted class certification in a suit alleging that Diamond Foods, Inc. misbranded its shelled walnut products and misled consumers by using “express and implied statements about the positive effects of omega-3 fatty acid consumption on health.” Zeisel v. Diamond Foods, Inc., N0. 10-01192 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., decided June 7, 2011). The labels at issue apparently featured a heart symbol banner with the phrase “Omega 3 2.5 g per serving” and a structural claim about the omega-3 in walnuts, as well as a qualified health claim approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After FDA issued a February 2010 warning letter about these so-called combination claims, a consumer filed a complaint alleging that Diamond used language not authorized by FDA and that its products “did not provide the health benefits that were claimed on the package labels.” Plaintiff then moved to certify a class of all persons who purchased “Diamond of California Shelled Walnut products in 6 ounce, 10 ounce, 16 ounce and/or 3 pound bags from March 22, 2006, through the present bearing labels” with the heart symbol banner and structural claim.
Rejecting Diamond’s argument that plaintiff lacked standing because he failed to provide physical proof of purchase, admitted to consuming the shelled walnuts “for reasons unrelated to the label” and continued to buy them even after filing suit, the court ruled that a plaintiff “’does not need to show that a defendant’s misrepresentation was the only cause of the injury producing conduct; rather, the plaintiff need only show that the misrepresentation was a substantial factor in influencing his decision.’ Laster, 2009 WL 4842801, at *5.” The court also conducted “a rigorous analysis of Rule 23 requirements” to demonstrate that absent class members have standing, concluding that, contrary to defendant’s contention, the proposed class is “’definite enough so that it is administratively feasible for the court to ascertain whether an individual is a member.’ O’Conner, 184 F.R.D. at 319.” To this end, the court specifically noted that the proposed class definition was neither “subjective [nor] imprecise,” but included “objective characteristics that would permit a consumer to identify themselves as a member of the proposed class.”