Class action plaintiffs and their attorneys are not taking a summer vacation from filing false advertising lawsuits challenging claims for products and services that range from baby food, to Uber, to the lifestyle of chickens, and to the content of almond milk.
In one suit, a pair of putative class action plaintiffs alleged that Gerber baby food products have only "trace amounts" or none of the fruits and vegetables the company claims are contained in Graduates Puffs and Puffs Organics. In a California state court complaint, the mothers say they purchased the products at least weekly for their children because of the healthy representations.
According to plaintiffs, Gerber violated California's Business and Professions Code and Consumers Legal Remedies Act as "The closest ingredient to fruits or vegetables in the Puffs is little more than a [powdered] dried apple puree," with more sugar than fruit or vegetable ingredients. The defendant's conduct extended to deceptive illustrations of fruit and vegetable ingredients found on mailer coupons and in magazine ads for the products, the plaintiffs said.
Also in California state court, an Uber rider sued the company alleging that it falsely states in ads that its services are 30 percent cheaper than taxis. Uber already faces a false advertising lawsuit from a group of cab companies based on allegedly false claims that the company offers safer rides. In the new lawsuit, Sennett Devermont says the company's actions "have been immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous, and substantially injurious to consumers."
Devermont—a regular Uber user—characterized the company as a "systemic" violator of California's Unfair Competition Law, since cab companies can charge lower rates than Uber during certain peak times. He also said the company fails to tell consumers that their $10 and $20 referral credits have an expiration date that caused him to lose several credits.
The plaintiff asked that the court order Uber to halt its misleading advertisements to disclose expiration dates for referral credits, and to certify a class of California Uber users over the last four years who would receive disgorgement payments.
In another recently filed case, a putative class alleged that Foster Poultry Farm deceived consumers by falsely promoting a certification from the American Humane Association when, in reality, its chickens are not killed quickly and painlessly and do not live comfortably. Carol Leining purchased the chicken products because of the "American Humane Certified" certification, not realizing that Foster's chickens are mutilated and mistreated, she alleged.
The Los Angeles Superior Court complaint maintains that Foster engaged in forced molting and beak trimming, that it starved and deprived chickens of water, and that it dunked chickens into electrified water while shackled upside down.
For claims of unfair competition, negligent misrepresentation, breach of express warranty, and breach of implied warranty of merchantability, Leining asked the court to award injunctive relief as well as monetary damages.
Another new suit contended that Kraft understates the amount of calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar listed on the labels for its Knudsen Hampshire brand sour cream—by a multiplier of four.
A 48-ounce container of the sour cream (purchased at Costco) featured an ingredient label stating that a half-cup of the product contains 60 calories, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of sodium, and 1 gram of sugar. Lawrence Appel's complaint asserted that the correct math for the serving size actually amounts to 240 calories, 14 grams of saturated fat, 40 milligrams of sodium, and 4 grams of sugar. The saturated fat alone reaches 72 percent of the recommended daily amount, Appel added, not the 18 percent listed on the label.
As a remedy, Appel suggested that Kraft change its labels and provide restitution and damages (both compensatory and punitive) to customers who purchased the sour cream.
Meanwhile, in a Florida federal court, a consumer sued Publix Supermarkets over labels for its toaster pastries, which she said contain artificial ingredients despite the "real fruit" claim made by the defendant.
Amber Michelle Jackson argued that Publix deceived consumers into believing that its toaster pastries actually contained real fruit and cited claims such as "Made with Real Fruit" and "Indulge in the sweetness of juicy strawberries surrounded by tender pastries." The claims appeared with imagery of "large, brightly colored pictures" of the fruit. Instead, she alleged the products are made with artificial coloring and high-fructose corn syrup.
On behalf of a proposed class of Publix's toaster pastries purchasers nationwide, Jackson requested that the court award damages, restitution, and declaratory relief for violations of Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and for negligent misrepresentation and breach of express warranty.
And in a New York federal court, a suit claimed Blue Diamond misrepresented the amount of almonds actually present in its almond-branded milk products, including Almond Breeze, which are touted as primarily made from almonds. According to the plaintiff, the products contain far less than the typical 25 to 30 percent found in almond drinks, the packaging misleadingly displays a picture of a handful of almonds, and deceptively states that the drinks are "Made from REAL almonds," all of which are designed to emphasize that the drinks are "heart healthy" foods. Contrary to the claims, "the so-called 'almond milk' is being made from various types of thickening agents, such as locust bean gum, gellan gum, xanthan gum, and carrageenan, which are less costly ingredients, and Defendants' almond milk labeled products only contain 2% of almonds," she said.
Albert—who alleged that she purchased the defendant's drinks based upon the statements and claims on the packaging—seeks to certify a nationwide class of almond milk drinkers dating back to 2009, and requests compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief.
To read the complaint in Gyorke-Takatri v. Nestle USA, click here.
To read the complaint in Jackson v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., click here.
To read the complaint in Albert v. Blue Diamond Growers, click here.
Why it matters: The half dozen new complaints represent the scope and volume of false advertising litigation. Filed in both state and federal courts and targeting products ranging from baby food to sour cream, as well as services like Uber, the lawsuits provide an important reminder to advertisers that any and all claims can be the subject of potential litigation.