Mislabeling Lawsuit Against Whole Foods Proceeds

Mislabeling Lawsuit Against Whole Foods Proceeds Whole Foods Market. March 25, 2009. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/LEGAL TIMES.

A California federal judge has refused to dismiss a class action lawsuit against Whole Foods Market California that accused it of mislabeling several food products as natural when they contain artificial ingredients.

Judge Edward J. Davila of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose denied Whole Foods motion in part by finding that state law claims are not preempted by national regulation as argued by Whole Foods. Read the court’s order in Pratt v. Whole Foods, filed on March 31, here, which granted in part and denied in part Whole Foods’ motion to dismiss.

Lead plaintiff Robert Pratt filed his suit in November 2012 alleging that Whole Foods improperly labeled its 365 Everyday Value products as natural and containing evaporated cane juice, and therefore engaged in misbranding and deception in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law and Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

Among those products the plaintiff purchased were chicken broth, tomato ketchup, organic ketchup, apple cinnamon instant oatmeal, whipped topping, cola, ginger ale, root beer and natural Italian soda.

Whole Foods challenged Pratt’s claims on the grounds that they are preempted, the doctrine of primary jurisdiction requires dismissal, the claims are implausible, the claims are not pled with the required particularity, and unjust enrichment is not a claim in California, the court order states.

But while the court did grant the portion of Whole Food’s motion to dismiss a claim for unjust enrichment, it found in favor of Pratt on most of his other claims.

“The court finds that the ‘natural’ labels may deceive a reasonable consumer, the claims are properly pled and the claims are inappropriate to resolve at the motion to dismiss stage,” the judge wrote in his order.

Laura Castro contributes to law.com.