The Northern District of California is one court in the US that commonly sees food labeling class actions alleging that consumers were misled by product packaging or labeling statements. Consumers in these cases often seek significant statutory or other classwide damages in an attempt to aggregate dollars of purchases into millions of dollars in liability. In one such recent case, the plaintiffs claimed that a product labeled as "Premier White Morsels" was deceptive because it implied that the product contained chocolate when it did not.
Judge Beth Labson Freeman dismissed the claims at the end of last week finding that they could not mislead consumers because the word "chocolate" was not on the product label and "premier" is non-actionable puffery. Unfortunately, the decision still allows the plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint, so it is possible the claims will be allowed to proceed if the plaintiffs can add further factual allegations. In any case, this is a favorable ruling for manufacturers of consumer products that follows a recent trend of courts refusing to accept US plaintiffs' claims that they were misled by products with clear labels and ingredient statements.
Prescott and Cheslow's complaint fails to establish that the packaging on Nestle's "Toll House's Premier White Morsels" is deceptive, saying neither the words "white" nor "premier" would lead buyers to believe the product is white chocolate. "Plaintiffs allege that the words 'white' and 'premier' ... are misleading, as they imply that the product contains white chocolate," Judge Freeman wrote. "But the product's label does not state that it contains white chocolate, or even use the word 'chocolate.'" Likewise, the word "premier" is nonactionable puffery, Judge Freeman wrote, and not a statement that leads reasonable consumers to believe the product is white chocolate. While Prescott and Cheslow also argued the product's placement alongside chocolate baking chips in the grocery store would mislead consumers, the judge found that the manufacturer is not liable based on where a third-party retailer puts the products.