Plaintiffs’ lawyers were tickled pink Monday when the California Supreme Court ruled (.pdf) that private citizens can pursue suits against grocery chains that fail to label farm-raised salmon as artificially colored.
“The case goes back to the [lower] court,” said Seattle attorney Craig Spiegel, who represented Californians claiming grocers deceived them by not disclosing that farm-raised salmon � which have gray flesh � were colored pink to make them look more palatable. “We’ll definitely address relief from those who bought salmon that wasn’t properly labeled,” the Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro partner said.
Monday’s 27-page, unanimous ruling was written by Justice Carlos Moreno, who rejected defense lawyers’ arguments that the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act preempted state laws regarding misbranding. Moreno said it was clear state laws identical to federal laws on disclosure aren’t preempted and permit enforcement actions by private citizens.
“Defendants’ assertion that Congress intended, without so saying, to limit states’ longstanding ability to allow private remedies for violations of their own laws,” he wrote, “has no support in either statutory language, legislative history or case law.”
The underlying suit was filed in 2004 as a class action against 11 major grocery chains � including Safeway Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. � and various subsidiaries. Monday’s ruling remands the case to the appellate court (.pdf).
Rex Heinke, a partner in Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s L.A. office, said he was disappointed and might seek certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court.
“What we were saying is that federal law has for decades prohibited private enforcement,” he said, “and the amendment the California Supreme Court relied on did not change that.”
The ruling is Farm Raised Salmon Cases, 08 C.D.O.S. 1800.