LOS ANGELES – August 11, 2014 – On August 8, TroyGould obtained a complete dismissal of a food mislabeling class action against its clients, The Kroger Company and Ralphs Grocery Company. The suit, brought on behalf “hundreds of thousands” of consumers of Kroger and Ralphs private-label sunflower seeds, alleged that the companies did not properly disclose the amount of sodium contained in their sunflower seed products. Kroger and Ralphs disclose nutrient information for a serving size of the “edible portion” of the sunflower seeds, but Plaintiffs alleged the label should also including information about the sodium content in the shell.
TroyGould removed the action to federal court and moved to dismiss on a number of grounds, including that the claims were legally implausible because the label itself specifically states, in accordance with Federal Regulations, that the sodium content disclosure applies only to the “edible portion.”
United States District Judge Manuel Real granted the motion to dismiss, denied leave to amend, and closed the case. The court explained that the words “edible portion” on the label means that the label “obviously contemplated and communicated” that the sodium disclosure pertained to the serving size of an “edible portion” of the product. Adopting the reasoning in the motion, Judge Real questioned the logic of the plaintiff’s claim. “What did Weiss think was the inedible portion that the nutrition label omitted if not the shell? A reasonable consumer knows that the seed is edible and that the shell is not, and would understand that the edible portion that the label referred to was the seed.” Because the claim did not satisfy federal pleading standards for plausibility, the court dismissed the lawsuit in full. And because Ralphs and Kroger showed that the label fully disclosed the sodium content, the court found that “no amendment consistent with the [complaint] could cure its flaw.”
“This is a fantastic result—not just for Kroger and Ralphs, but also for other grocers and food manufacturers facing class actions based on allegedly misleading food labeling,” said Jacob Harper, the TroyGould litigator who spearheaded the defense for Kroger and Ralphs. “This order correctly applies federal law requiring plausible pleading with California’s ‘reasonable consumer’ test for false advertising claims. As a result, the order focuses on the context of labels as a whole, not just on what a plaintiff alleges he and others understood.”
This action, filed in April in state court, was the first of several copycat lawsuits against other grocers this year for the alleged mislabeling of sunflower seeds. This order represents the first decisive ruling in those actions.