Judge dismisses proposed class action lawsuit filed by “serial plaintiff.” (subscription to Law360 required)

  • As previously covered on this blog, a lawsuit was filed in the “Food Court” in which the plaintiff alleged that that the presence of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in defendant’s noodle products may violate California law.  The judge found “plausible allegations” under:  (1) the Unfair Prong of California’s Unfair Competition Law (based on allegations that the use of trans fats in foods poses risks to public health and that the only utility of such use is that it is less expensive than safe substitutes) because the law applies a balancing test of harm and utility; and (2) the breach of implied warranty of merchantability (based on allegations that foods containing trans fats are not fit for human consumption due to the associated health risks).
  • On August 14, 2015, the judge dismissed the proposed class action lawsuit, finding that the plaintiff’s prior significant involvement in PHO-based lawsuits negated his claims in the instant case.  In his ruling, the judge explained that the plaintiff was aware of the following key facts prior to buying the noodle products:  (1) products could be labeled “0g Trans Fat” if they contained < 0.5 grams of trans fat; (2) PHOs contained artificial trans fat; (3) he could check ingredient lists on food labels to see if they contained PHOs; and (4) artificial trans fat was linked to health risks.  Further, the plaintiff admitted that he actually had inspected other product labels to verify the presence of trans fat prior to buying them.  The judge dismissed the lawsuit without leave to amend, concluding that “no amendment to the pleadings can overcome the fact that plaintiff could have avoided any injury caused by defendants’ [sic] use of artificial trans-fat in its noodles.”
  • The ruling indicates that “serial plaintiff” status may be self-defeating.  Ultimately, this ruling may help food industry defendants who find themselves opposing repeat players in campaigns against particular claims or ingredients.