Products Liability Law360 ran a piece this week entitled “Suits Over Deceptive Food Marketing Likely To Increase” (unfortunately, this is a subscription-only site) authored by Liz McKenzie. The article discusses rightly how increased FDA enforcement action may lead plaintiffs attorneys to file “piggy-back” putative class actions. For example, it took just 13 days following the FDA’s warning letter to General Mills concerning Cheerios for the first putative class suit to be filed.
Compounding increased FDA enforcement, recent rulings from the Supreme Court and the Third Circuit, like the Snapple Decision, have made it more difficult to assert a preemption defense in food cases in the absence of formal FDA rulemaking.
But, what one hand giveth the other taketh away. The hope for food companies is that that the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Twombly and Iqbal will negate the preemption decisions and effectively heighten the bar for consumer fraud claims related to product marketing. Dismissal for failure to meet the new “plausibility” pleading standard and not preemption is exactly how the District Court ruled in Wright v. General Mills. Wright involved a putative class complaint involving Nature’s Valley products sold as “100% Natural” “even though the products contained one or more non-natural or artificial ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup (’HFCS’).”
In Wright, the court found defective, under the Iqbal/Twombly “plausibility” standard, the plaintiffs’ injury-in-fact allegation. The Wright court ruled that the injury-in-fact allegation “conclusory,” “sparse” and “defective.” The plaintiff alleged only that “Defendant caused Plaintiff and other members of the Class to purchase, purchase more of, or pay more for, these Nature Valley products.”
Following the Supreme Court’s new standard of notice pleading and its application in the Wright case, query how any putative consumer fraud class complaint can survive a Rule 12 motion without having first completed market surveys or gathering of other evidence of consumer injury.