When Is Food “Unlawful” or not “Merchantable”?: Court Ruling Further Confounds Labeling Suit Defendants
by James D. Smith, Sara Ahmed
Washington Legal Foundation
April 28, 2014
A recent magistrate judge recommendation from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California highlights the many difficulties and uncertainties that defendants face in food labeling class actions based on California law. In March, Magistrate Judge Paul Singh Grewal denied Defendant Welch Foods Inc.’s motion to strike Plaintiffs Elizabeth Park and Carolyn Otto’s claims that Welch’s juice labeled “no sugar added” and Welch’s fruit spread labeled “all natural” were “illegal.” Magistrate Judge Grewal’s implied warranty of merchantability rationale effectively creates a strict liability claim for consumers who simply allege they bought and possessed products that could not be legally resold due to the products being mislabeled. The decision has turned a warranty remedy designed to address situations where a consumer did not receive what she bargained for into strict liability without any showing of injury.