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This month’s update kicks off spring with a Best in Show throwback ad comparing dog flea and tick medication, pivots to claims for survivalist ready-to-eat meals (don’t even try to act like you saw that coming), highlights FDA’s recently-issued voluntary recall guidance, provides a food court update on the latest ingredient class actions and cleans

Food + Personal Care Litigation and Regulatory Highlights – January 2022Welcome to our 2022 inaugural issue of Food and Personal Care Litigation and Regulatory Highlights, where we explore trends and developments from around these industries.  It’s fair to say that the year has started off very busy in both the courtroom and the regulatory arena.  On this chilly winter day, our first stop is in California.

Prop 65

Our friends at Kelley Green Law Blog get the starting position for this issue by highlighting a precipitous uptick in the number of Prop 65 filings over the prior year.  While the Covid-19 pandemic caused all sorts of disruptions to society and the economy, at least one area of business has thrived over the last two years:  private plaintiff enforcement of California Proposition 65.  In 2020-2021, over 40% more Prop 65 actions were brought by private plaintiff “bounty hunters” than in the two years prior to the pandemic (2018-2019).  Compared to a decade ago, private plaintiff groups now initiate three times more Prop 65 actions each year, and five times more than in 2008.  Learn more here about the most frequently cited chemicals and those that are emerging, including PFAS.
Continue Reading Food + Personal Care Litigation and Regulatory Highlights – January 2022

The Pink Tax: A Litigation and Legislation UpdateWe previously reported on an emerging legislative and litigation trend relating to the “pink tax” – a gender-based pricing phenomenon that allegedly results in higher prices for goods and services marketed towards women as compared to substantially similar alternatives marketed towards men.  As predicted, the last two years have shown an uptick in litigation (which has been largely unsuccessful) and legislative action (some finalized and some pending).

Litigation

Last year, we discussed an early blow to the pink tax theory of liability in Schulte v. Conopco, d/b/a Unilever, et al.  In Schulte, the plaintiffs alleged that various personal care manufacturers and retailers violated the Missouri Merchandizing Practices Act (MMPA) by charging more for deodorants marketed for women than allegedly similar deodorants marketed for men.  The product lines at issue contained similar, but not identical, ingredients, came in different sizes, and were available in different scents (fifteen “feminine” scents in the line marketed for women and five “masculine” scents in the line marketed for men).  The Eastern District of Missouri dismissed the complaint, ruling that “Missouri law does not compel identical products to be sold at the same price” and that the plaintiff’s remedy “lies with legislation, not litigation.”  The Eighth Circuit affirmed on the grounds that the plaintiff mistook “gender-based marketing for gender discrimination.”  In order to state a claim, the court ruled that the plaintiff would have to allege that the only difference between the products was the price and the intended target of the marketing.  Here, because the plaintiff conceded that the products were, in fact, different, thus dismissal was appropriate.
Continue Reading The Pink Tax: A Litigation and Legislation Update

Welcome back from the annual food coma known as Thanksgiving dinner.  If you’re still dreaming of cranberries, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, continue the gastronomic journey with our monthly wrap up of what’s been going on in the food court, NAD’s opining on use of emojis to convey advertising claims , and highlights from FDA’s recent

If the summer slide and the start of school kept you too busy to follow what’s going on in the food scene, we hear you!  Catch up on key developments below in this issue of our Food Industry Litigation and Regulatory Highlights.

The Courts Were Kind to the Food Industry This Summer

This summer brought a series of class action victories to the food industry, including a trio of decisions from the Second and Ninth Circuits, both long-time hot beds for false advertising class actions, as well as four dismissals from the Southern District of New York.

At the appellate level, the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a putative class action challenging Starbucks’ claim that its drinks are the “best coffee for you” and that its coffee is “watched over … from the farm to you,” despite the use of pesticides to kill roaches at certain retail locations.  The Court ruled that the challenged claims were not specific enough to misrepresent a quality or characteristic of Starbucks’ coffee, and that no reasonable consumer would interpret them to suggest anything about the use of pesticides in Starbucks’ stores.

The Ninth Circuit decertified a class of consumers claiming that Coca-Cola falsely labels its drinks as having no artificial flavors when they contain phosphoric acid, ruling that consumers lacked standing to pursue injunctive relief.  According to the Court, the plaintiffs’ claims that they “would consider purchasing” Coke in the future if certain disclosures were included or if the product’s labels were truthful were insufficient to show an actual or imminent threat of future harm.
Continue Reading Food Industry Litigation and Regulatory Highlights, July – September 2021

The dietary supplement and personal care product space continued to see enforcement on false CBD, COVID, and fertility claims as well as related litigation involving “germ-killing” claims on hand sanitizers and wipes.  Messy stuff…Let’s take a look…

LITIGATION

Personal Care Products

In a blow to the trending “pink tax” theory of liability in consumer class actions, in May, the Eighth Circuit ruled that various personal care product manufacturers and retailers did not violate Missouri’s anti-discrimination laws by charging more for products marketed towards women as compared to allegedly identical products that were either marketed towards men or utilized gender-neutral marketing.  The Court found that the plaintiff “mistakes gender-based marketing for gender discrimination” and, in the process, ignores numerous differences between the products that account for the higher price tag.  There has been a handful of similar “pink tax” cases filed over the last year or two, but this is the first appellate court to rule on the issue.
Continue Reading Dietary Supplement and Personal Care Products Regulatory and Litigation Highlights – May and June 2021

For our June review, the action stays largely in the litigation arena with vanilla getting thrown out and sustainability as well as settlements getting called into question.  Meanwhile, environmental and health stakeholders are pushing FDA to ban PFAS from food contact uses as many in industry move away from PFAS-containing packaging.  How to digest all of it?  Consider some yogurt.  FDA updated the standard of identity, making it more delicious than ever.  Let’s take a look….

LITIGATION

Two More Vanilla Cases Get Thrown Out of the Food Court

In Robie v. Trader Joe’s Co., the Northern District of California dismissed claims that Trader Joe’s Almond Clusters cereal should have been labeled as “artificially flavored.”  The court held that, because the vanilla flavor can from both the vanilla plant and vanillin derived from tree bark, it was properly labeled as “Vanilla Flavored With Other Natural Flavors” under applicable FDA regulations and the plaintiff’s claims suggesting otherwise were preempted.  The court also found that the plaintiff had failed to allege facts suggesting that reasonable consumers would interpret “vanilla” on the product label to mean that the product’s flavor is derived exclusively from the vanilla plant, especially given that the challenged label did not contain any other words or pictures suggesting that the flavor was derived exclusively from the vanilla bean.
Continue Reading Food Industry Regulatory and Litigation Highlights – June 2021

Food and Beverage Litigation HighlightsWelcome to our April + May combined report on food litigation, regulatory trends and events.  We have a lot to report in the food world, with a number of litigation currents starting to form, and some new waves building.  Let’s see what happened….

New Filings

Cheesy Goodness?  General Mills was hit with five putative class actions challenging its Annie’s mac and cheese marketing representations that the product is “Made with Goodness” when, in fact, it contains potentially harmful chemicals known as ortho-phthalates which are linked to asthma, breast cancer and diabetes.  The cases are pending in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and the Northern District of California.  The Kraft Heinz Company was named in similar suits filed in the Northern District of California and the Northern District of Illinois.

Sparkling Water/Seltzer:  A number of companies were named in putative class actions alleging that various sparkling water products misrepresented the nature of the flavoring agents used.  For example, a complaint against Whole Foods (filed in the Southern District of New York) alleges that the Lemon Raspberry Italian Sparkling Mineral Water does not contain an appreciable amount real lemons or real raspberries.  Similarly, a complaint against Kroger (filed in the Northern District of California) challenges the non-disclosure of artificial flavoring chemicals.  Finally, Molson Coors Beverage Company was named in a class action alleging that its “Vizzy” brand hard seltzers are marketed as containing a significant amount of healthful qualities and nutrients such as vitamin C which, according to the complaint, falsely implies that alcoholic beverages could provide health benefits.

More Vanilla:  April and May saw two new vanilla filings, including a case against Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc., alleging that the defendant’s “Premium Vanilla” ice cream was falsely labeled as containing “natural colors and flavors” (Northern District of Illinois) and a case against Hostess alleging that its vanilla wafer products were falsely advertised as containing real vanilla (Missouri state court).

More Natural: The past two months have seen a slew of new “natural” filings in the food industry.  Such filings challenge of synthetic preservatives and other ingredients including citric acid (3 cases), ascorbic acid (1 case), artificial coloring (1 case), and monk fruit extract, which is alleged to be natural but processed with artificial solvents and additives (1 case).  The filings were made across the country, including in Missouri state court (4 cases), the Central District of California (1 case), and the Southern District of Illinois (1 case).  In addition to the natural allegations relating to monk fruit extract, a case against Chobani also challenges claims relating to “complete nutrition,” “advanced nutrition” and the use of a “+” symbol in connection with prebiotics and probiotics which, according to the complaint, falsely suggests that the product has more pre- and probiotics than other comparable foods.

Coffee, Please:  We have also seen an uptick in coffee-related class actions, with two actions alleging that ground coffee products artificially inflate the number of cups that can be made from their contents given the directions for use.

Delivery Fees:  April and May saw a continued trend of challenges relating to food delivery charges during the pandemic, with cases filed against GrubHub, alleged to have charged an undisclosed $2.50/delivery fee on top of its $9.99/month “Unlimited Free Delivery” for GrubHub+ users, and against Panera, alleged to have falsely promised a flat delivery charge on food deliveries ordered through Panera’s app and website.  Both cases are pending in California state court.

Food Settlements 
Continue Reading Food Industry Regulatory and Litigation Highlights – April and May 2021

Welcome to our monthly digest of litigation and regulatory highlights impacting the personal care product and dietary supplement industry.  April saw a re-emphasis on restriction of COVID-related claims in advertisements for supplements and therapies, developments in various class action cases, including a win for consumers challenging hand sanitizer’s claims of killing 99.99% of germs and a slew of new “natural” class actions, and finally a roller coaster ride for the FTC involving major blows and power moves.

Let’s take a look….
Continue Reading Dietary Supplement and Personal Care Products Regulatory and Litigation Highlights – April 2021

The FTC flexed its new-found civil penalty muscle last week by filing the first case pursuant to the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, which gives the FTC authority to seek civil penalties for deceptive COVID-related acts and practices.  ICYMI, see our blog post about the civil penalty authority here.

Ordinarily, the FTC is only authorized to