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U.S. District Court Decertifies Class in “Natural” Cheese Class Action Lawsuit

Jun 29, 2017 | Posted by Parada K. Ornelas | Topic: Class Actions

In May 2014, consumers of Kraft Food Groups, Inc. filed a class action lawsuit accusing the company of falsely advertising its artificially colored, fat-free cheddar cheese as “natural.”  Judge John A. Kronstadt of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California had initially certified the class of consumers who had purchased Kraft’s “natural” cheese since May 2010.  However, in June 2017, the Court granted Kraft’s motion for decertification and granted in part Kraft’s motion for summary judgment on damages under the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act and on named plaintiffs.  Kraft successfully established that the plaintiffs had failed to develop any evidence that would support restitution damages sought by the class members. 

Although the Court decertified the class, it kept open the possibility of injunctive relief to the class as a whole and sought additional briefing on whether the class would be re-certifiable under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  The plaintiffs have already filed a brief arguing that the class meets certain procedural requirements and has standing.  Specifically, the plaintiffs assert that they would not have purchased the cheese if they knew that the label was deceptive and misled them into thinking the coloring in the product was all natural.  The plaintiffs also cite to cases that obtained class certification involving other “all natural” labeling against Arizona Iced Tea and Dole Packaged Foods LLC.  The District Court will then decide whether the class should be recertified under Rule 23(b)(2). 

Judge Kronstadt had previously denied Kraft’s motion and renewed motion to stay the case pending action from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the definition of “natural”—which may signal a trend for other similar lawsuits in other jurisdictions to proceed without guidance from the FDA.  At this time, it is unclear if and when the FDA will issue any guidance to define “natural,” or how the term should be used in the context of food labeling. 

Given the rise in actions by class action lawyers involving beverages and food products that are labeled “natural,” guidance from the FDA on this issue will likely have a profound impact on these types of class actions.