On July 2, 2014 Judge Vince Chhabria dismissed a class action alleging that Hain Celestial Group, a manufacturer of “raw” juices, misleadingly labelled and advertised its wares. This dismissal is noteworthy – and should stand as a cautionary tale – because the class plaintiffs eviscerated their own claims and pleaded themselves out of court by citing two articles in their complaint that indisputably contradicted their arguments.
The premise of the complaint was that Hain misled consumers by promoting its juices as “100% Raw,” “Raw and Organic,” and/or “Unpasteurized” since “just like pasteurization, the pressure treatment used by the defendants deprives juice of nutritional value, and that because the defendants do not disclose this, their representations about not cooking juice are misleading.” So far, so good: as the court noted, these allegations were plausible on their own.
However, the class plaintiffs decided to fortify their argument with some science and cited two academic articles, thus incorporating them by reference. Unfortunately (for the class), these articles “repeatedly make the point that pressurization has less impact on nutritional value than pasteurization.” Judge Chhabria distilled some of the more damning quotations from each piece: “[pressurization] has little or no effects on nutritional and sensory quality aspects on foods” and “[pressurization] maintains the quality of fresh foods, with few direct effects on flavor and little effect on nutritional quality.”
Despite the class plaintiffs’ valiant efforts to argue that the articles did not in fact say what they in fact said, it was clear that their juice was cooked: Judge Chhabria wrote unflinchingly, “The articles the plaintiffs cite thus contradict the allegation upon which their entire complaint hinges – namely, that pressure treatment deprives juice of nutritional value to a similar degree as pasteurization.”
If we can boil this case down to a single lesson, it must be this: always read before you plead.