A U.S. District Court judge certified a class of Florida consumers in a suit alleging that Mead Johnson & Co. falsely advertised its Enfamil infant formula.

The company faced a prior suit and challenges before the National Advertising Division based on ads stating the product was “The only brand clinically proven to improve visual and mental development.” The Florida class action plaintiffs claim that Mead’s ads – particularly one that used a blurry image of a yellow duckling – suggested that not using Enfamil could lead to poor eyesight, among other problems. The suit also alleges that Mead claimed Enfamil was the only formula brand to contain two fatty acids, DHA and ARA, to aid development, when in fact Enfamil is identical to store-brand formulas.

U.S. District Court Judge James I. Cohn certified a class of Florida consumers alleging violations of state law and false advertising. The class of plaintiffs has common issues of fact or law about whether Mead’s representations were true and what damages would be appropriate, he said. Even though the plaintiff failed to name the specific product she purchased in the list of products included in the suit, the court said the mistake did not preclude class certification, or the plaintiff’s role as the class representative.

Mead also argued that the plaintiff was an inappropriate class representative because she continued to buy Enfamil even after she learned that it was not the only product to contain DHA and ARA. But the court found that because the plaintiff asserted that “she bought Enfamil Lipil based on a belief that the product contained something that other infant formulas did not, the court finds that [her] claim has ‘the same essential characteristics as the claims of the class at large.’”

To read the complaint in Nelson v. Mead Johnson, click here.

To read the order granting class certification in Nelson v. Mead Johnson, click here.

Why it matters: Mead Johnson has faced a slew of lawsuits and regulatory action over the Enfamil ad campaign. In December 2009, a federal jury ordered the company to pay $13.5 million to a competitor, PBM Products, for the comparative claims made in the campaign about store-brand baby formula. The company also lost three consecutive challenges brought by Abbott Laboratories, maker of Similac, before the National Advertising Division, which were cited in the Florida class action and ultimately led the NAD to refer the case to the Federal Trade Commission.