We’ve recently reported on numerous district court—and even Ninth Circuit—stays in false advertising actions. Many of these stays have been based on FDA’s consideration of food labeling issues, such as those involving evaporated cane juice (ECJ), the term “natural” or the presence of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in food products. But courts have also stayed cases pending the Ninth Circuit’s review of class certification decisions in misbranding cases, finding that appellate guidance will aid in courts’ consideration of these issues.
Now, a mislabeling action against Bimbo Bakeries has been stayed on the latter ground: Ang v. Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc., No. 13-cv-01196-HSG (N.D. Cal. March 31, 2016) (Dkt. No. 161) (“Order”). Bimbo is at least the sixteenth Northern District decision to put mislabeling claims on hold pending the Ninth Circuit’s review.
What’s on the Ninth Circuit’s Docket? In the upcoming year, the Ninth Circuit will review a number of the misbranding cases that have flooded this Circuit. The two key class action cases where district courts are awaiting guidance, however, are: Jones v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., No. 14-16327 (9th Cir. Nov. 24, 2014), which addresses the ascertainability requirement, and Brazil v. Dole Packaged Foods, LLC, No. 14-17480 (9th Cir. Dec. 18, 2014), which addresses the proper standard for damages models under Comcast Corp. v. Behrend. Brazil, which was dismissed on summary judgment, also raises issues regarding required proof of consumer deception as well as reliance and materiality requirements for claims sounding in fraud.
Judge Puts Bimbo Bakeries Action on Hold. On March 25, 2016, Northern District of California Judge Haywood Gilliam issued an order to show cause why plaintiffs’ mislabeling action against Bimbo Bakeries should not be stayed pending resolution of these two appeals. In doing so, he noted that several courts in the District have stayed cases in light of the pending appeals in Jones and Brazil. The parties submitted a joint statement in response, indicating that neither opposed the stay.
After analyzing factors courts use in considering stays, Judge Gilliam concluded that a stay was warranted. Because both parties agreed to the stay, neither would be harmed. Most importantly, “it would be an inefficient and imprudent use of judicial resources to rule on the pending motion for class certification when the Ninth Circuit may offer ‘substantial guidance, if not new law, that will materially impact the Court’s discussion in the instant case.’” (Order at 2:10-14 (citation omitted).) The court accordingly stayed the entire action pending the Jones and Brazil appeals.
“Food Court” Is Quiet. Bimbo and other district court stays of misbranding actions have caused the Northern District, previously dubbed the “food court,” to be relatively quiet on the false advertising front, at least for now.