While a federal court in California has dismissed warranty claims filed under federal law against an ice cream manufacturer sued for allegedly misleading consumers by labeling its products with the phrases “All Natural Flavors” and “All Natural Ice Cream,” most of the plaintiffs’ state law-based claims will proceed. Astiana v. Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Inc., No. C-11-2910 EMC; Rutledge- Muhs v. Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Inc., No. C-11-3164 EMC (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., order entered July 20, 2012).
The plaintiffs allege that Dreyer’s and Edy’s ice cream products should not bear labels stating “All Natural Flavors” because they contain between one and five artificial and/or synthetic ingredients, and the company’s Haagen-Dazs ice cream products should not bear labels stating “All Natural Ice Cream” because they contain cocoa processed using a synthetic and/or artificial alkalizing agent. They allege violation of written warranty under the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act; common law fraud; unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices and false advertising under California’s Business & Professions Code; violation of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act; and restitution based on quasi-contract/unjust enrichment.
The court dismissed the federal claim with prejudice, agreeing with Dreyer’s that the word “natural” is just descriptive and does not “give any assurance” that the product is defect free, a defining element under the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act. The court also noted that no authority supports the plaintiffs’ position that food which contains artificial and/or synthetic ingredients is defective. Regarding the plaintiff’s state law-based claims relating to the Dreyer’s/Edy’s use of “All Natural Flavors” labeling, i.e., it is misleading because it suggests that all of the ingredients in the ice cream (not just the flavoring ingredients) are natural when they are not, the court denied Dreyer’s motion to dismiss. The court found that reliance on a federal nutrition labeling law to support a preemption argument was misplaced because the claims focus on flavoring and also found that a reasonable consumer might interpret “All Natural Flavors” to mean “all natural ingredients.”
Still, the court dismissed as preempted or duplicative all but the § 17200 unlawful business practice claim based on a violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the California Health & Safety Code § 110100(a), “but only to the extent the claim is predicated on an unlawful business practice (not an unfair or fraudulent one).”
As to the claims relating to the “All Natural Ice Cream” label on Haagen-Dazs products, the court rejected two of Dreyer’s contentions as “without merit and hardly worth addressing.” They included that the plaintiffs’ claims were implausible because “ice cream is not a wholesome or healthy food” and “ice cream is not a natural food.” According to the court, the plaintiffs “do not claim that ice cream is a wholesome or healthy food,” nor do they claim that it may be found in nature. Citing Williams v. Gerber Products Co., 522 F.3d 934 (9th Cir. 2008), the court also notably rejected the company’s attempted reliance on the ingredient list to “correct” purportedly deceptive representations on the front of its packaging. Thus, the court refused to dismiss the state-law claims with respect to the Haagen-Dazs ice cream.
As for the plaintiffs’ standing to assert claims relating to products they had not purchased, the court found that they had “alleged sufficient similarity between the products they did purchase and those that they did not; any concerns of [the defendant] and/or the Court about material differences are better addressed at the class certification stage rather than at the 12(b)(6) stage.”