Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Conagra’s challenge to a previous ruling from the Ninth Circuit that said plaintiffs are not required to show there’s an “administratively feasible” way of identifying absent class members in class action lawsuits challenging food labeling. The high court’s decision leaves a split of opinion among federal circuit courts regarding this so-called “ascertainability” standard intact.
Proving “Administrative Feasibility”
This case, Briseno v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., is among many recent class action suits challenging food labeling. It claimed that a “100% Natural” label on Conagra’s Wesson-brand cooking oils was deceptive because the oil—made from bioengineered ingredients—is unnatural. Conagra argued for the denial of class certification, claiming that the plaintiffs were unable to identify class members, i.e., those who purchased Wesson cooking products within the class period. A panel for the Ninth Circuit reviewed the court rule governing class actions and concluded that it is not a prerequisite for class certification to demonstrate administrative feasibility, meaning that consumers’ self-identification of products they had purchased is enough to establish class membership.
Making an Uphill Battle Less Steep
By leaving the Ninth Circuit ruling untouched, the Supreme Court has made it harder for the food industry to defend against consumer food labeling cases. This is definitely a small victory for plaintiffs as these lawsuits will place significant pressure on defendant companies. They may be more likely to settle than deal with the possibility the Ninth Circuit will certify a huge class they will have to face in court.
If you think a food manufacturer or other company has misrepresented its products or is deceiving consumers, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Class Action Group today.