For years we've been hearing that the next gold mine for plaintiffs lawyers would be consumer cases against food and beverage companies alleging that they deceived the public about the health consequences of their products. But so far, plaintiff wins in such suits have been about as rare as a Big Mac at a vegetarian retreat.
The latest plaintiffs' defeat is the denial of class certification in a purported Manhattan federal district court class action against Snapple. In a 37-page decision (pdf) issued last week, Judge Denise Cote refused to certify a class of New York Snapple purchasers who asserted that Snapple's claims of "All Natural" ingredients in its teas and juices violated New York consumer protection laws because the beverages contained high-fructose corn syrup.
After the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a similar case based on New Jersey consumer protection laws last year, Snapple's lawyers at Baker Botts answered the New York complaint in anticipation of a fight at the class certification stage. It was a wise choice. Cote found that the plaintiffs failed to show how they'd prove that all class members paid a premium for Snapple because of its "All Natural" label.
"Plaintiffs have not proposed a suitable methodology for establishing the critical elements of causation and injury on a class-wide basis," she wrote. "Without a reliable methodology, plaintiffs have not shown that they could prove at trial using common evidence that putative class members in fact paid a premium for Snapple beverages as a result of the 'All Natural' labeling. And since the issue of damages is bound up with the issue of injury in this case, plaintiffs have likewise failed to show how damages could be proven class-wide."
Snapple counsel Van Beckwith of Baker Botts told the Litigation Daily that Cote's decision should have "persuasive effect around the country" in similar suits.
Plaintiffs lawyer Daniel Lapinski of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer told us he's reviewing the decision and considering his options. But he added that Cote's opinion won't have a direct impact on the New Jersey case against Snapple, in which he's also class counsel. Lapinski said the New Jersey case has been stayed for six months, following a request by another New Jersey federal district court judge who's overseeing a similar class action involving consumer claims against Arizona Ice Tea, for a Food and Drug Administration determination of whether high-fructose syrup is a natural ingredient.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Litigation Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.