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January 23, 2013

Purported Fresh Orange Juice Class Action Won't Squeeze Defendant

Consumer Advertising Law Blog

A federal court in Alabama recently dismissed a putative class action challenging the labeling of Florida's Natural Orange Juice as "100% orange juice," "fresh," and "pure," when the product had allegedly undergone processing and contained added flavors and aromas. The plaintiff asserted claims for breach of contract and breach of express warranty. This case is one of several similar cases brought against orange juice manufacturers in recent years, including at least two other cases brought by the same plaintiff that are pending in the Northern District of Alabama. Veal v. Winn Dixie Stores, Inc.; Veal v. Wal Mart Stores, Inc.

In granting the motion to dismiss, the court held that the named plaintiff lacked standing because he had not suffered an actual injury by purchasing the Florida's Natural Orange Juice. The court doubted the plaintiff's assertions that he believed the juice to be fresh squeezed, stating that "[a]s a matter of common sense, whatever is in a container on a store shelf with an expiration date some weeks hence cannot contain 'fresh' anything." The court went on to state that even if the plaintiff "believed defendant hired individuals to hand squeeze oranges one by one into juice cartons," learning that the orange juice was commercially produced did not amount to an injury. According to the court, the plaintiff simply did not allege any harm when he purchased and received the exact product, packaged orange juice, that he intended to purchase.

The court also rejected the plaintiff's argument that his injury arose when he allegedly did not receive the benefit of the bargain. Put simply, the court stated "[h]e paid for orange juice mass produced and supplied to grocery stores all over the country, and that is exactly what he received."

After finding that the plaintiff had failed to allege any injury, the court went on to note that there were no remedies to redress the plaintiff's grievances and injunctive relief was improper. Finally, although unnecessary to its holding, the court noted that Florida Natural Orange Juice was properly labeled under FDA standards, suggesting that the plaintiff could not suffer injury by purchasing a product that had been labeled in accordance with those standards.

The court denied the plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint because there was "nothing in the labeling of Florida Natural Orange juice that would in any way deceive a reasonable consumer into believing that the orange juice in question is anything but pasteurized orange juice."

Offering insight into the apparent motive of many food-related consumer class actions, the court also noted that it viewed plaintiff counsel's actions as "shopping for plaintiffs in an attempt to manufacture a claim," which the court would not countenance.

The court's opinion was a refreshing win for the juice maker, in what has become a hostile climate of food-and-beverage related consumer class actions. However, the reach of the holding in this case may be somewhat limited, as the plaintiff did not assert a false advertising or misrepresentation claim, which are often at the core of these cases.

© Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP 2013 All Rights Reserved. This blog post is intended to be a general summary of the law and does not constitute legal advice. You should consult with counsel to determine applicable legal requirements in a specific fact situation.

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