Finding that individual issues predominate over common ones in a putative class action alleging that Chipotle Mexican Grill sold conventionally raised meats despite advertising its use of “naturally raised” meats, a federal court in California has denied the plaintiff’s motion for class certification. Hernandez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., No. 12-5543 (U.S. Dist. Ct., C.D. Cal., order entered December 2, 2013). Additional details about the case appear in Issue 451 of this Update.

According to the court, when and where a class member ate at Chipotle and which meat she ate can only be handled individually. The court deemed these issues significant because the allegations are based on the company’s in-store menu signboards and paper menus and because the dates on which “naturally raised” meats were unavailable to specific stores varied over the course of five years. The court also noted that when Chipotle experienced “naturally raised” meat shortages, it would instruct individual stores to post signs to so inform customers, typically at the tortilla station. This further raised individual issues as to whether a sign was posted or a class member saw it.

With few records available to pinpoint specific purchases involving a “very low price transaction,” the court found the class action mechanism not fair and efficient. The court concluded, “The claims would require claimants to list every time they ate at Chipotle, the date—at least month and year, the specific location—‘San Francisco’ is not going to be good enough, and the specific item purchased. The Court is confident that very few people will be able to provide that information. People will either (1) lie, (2) attempt to fill out the claim form as best they can but be unable to do so accurately, or, mostout the claim form as best they can but be unable to do so accurately, or, most likely, (3) not bother. Money would be given out basically at random to people who may or may not actually be entitled to restitution. This is unfair both to legitimate class members and to Chipotle."