A federal court in California has determined that a state agency decision not to pursue an investigation into the defendant’s alleged violations of the California Organic Products Act (COPA) does not pose a bar to a putative class action alleging COPA and other violations against Hain Celestial in the labeling of its “Avalon Organics” and “Jason” branded cosmetic products.
Brown v. The Hain Celestial Group, Inc., No. 11-3082 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., San Francisco Div., order entered February 10, 2014). So ruling, the court denied the company’s motion for summary judgment.
Hain Celestial argued that the agency ruling extinguished the plaintiffs’ COPA claims, the plaintiffs were estopped from arguing otherwise because they likely initiated the agency’s complaint and were “deeply involved” in the investigation, and the agency’s determination is dispositive of the remaining claims because they are predicated on a COPA violation. The court ruled that the agency simply conducted an informal inquiry, obtaining only ex parte submissions from the company, “that resulted only in a decision not to pursue the matter further.”This, the court determined, did not decide the COPA claim. The court also found that while the agency asked the plaintiffs, including former plaintiff Center for Environmental Health, for copies of the center’s COPA lawsuits against the manufacturers of personal care products, this was the only involvement the plaintiffs had in the informal inquiry. The court disagreed that the remaining claims were predicated on the alleged COPA violation.