A California resident has filed a putative nationwide class action against Nestlé USA, Inc., claiming that its use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (trans fat) in many of its frozen pizza brands, including DiGiorno®, Stouffer’s® and California Pizza Kitchen® violates California’s Unfair Competition Law and constitutes a nuisance under California Civil Code §§ 3479-3493. Simpson v. Cal. Pizza Kitchen, No. 13-164 (U.S. Dist. Ct., S.D. Cal., filed January 21, 2013). In addition to monetary damages, she seeks an order requiring the company to “cease using artificial trans fat as an ingredient in the Nestle Trans Fat Pizzas.”
While the complaint includes detailed information about the purported risks of consuming trans fats and notes that California forbids its use in schools or restaurants in amounts greater than a half-gram per serving, nowhere does she allege what quantity of trans fat is used in the defendants’ products or whether the products are mislabeled. Plaintiff Katie Simpson claims that using trans fat in pizza is “unnecessary” and attaches a list of dozens of competing products made without it.
Claiming that she “lost money as a result of Defendants’ conduct described herein in that she purchased products that, because they were detrimental to her health, were unfairly offered for sale in violation of California law,” Simpson also calls their practices “immoral, unethical, unscrupulous, or substantially injurious to consumers.” She further contends that their conduct “injures competing manufacturers of frozen pizza that do not engage in” such behavior and that the defendants’ actions violate public policy by causing federal and state governments to pay “for treatment of trans fat-related diseases.” She seeks restitution, disgorgement, corrective advertising, a cease and desist order, and an order “abating Defendants’ injurious practices,” as well as interest, attorney’s fees, and costs.
Nestlé has reportedly issued a statement indicating that it was disappointed with the lawsuit and has confirmed in an email that “We plan to eliminate all added TFAs [trans fatty acids] in our pizzas by the end of June 2013.” According to a news source, it posted a YouTube® video after the suit was filed in which the president of the company’s pizza division claimed that Nestlé has reduced the amount of trans fats in its frozen pizza line by 50 percent since acquiring the business in 2010, the company would have them all removed by this summer, and trans fats are clearly marked on package ingredient labels. See Brandchannel.com, January 31, 2013.