Judge won't certify liability-only class in lawsuit against Mott's over labeling of apple juice

By Kyla Asbury | Dec 5, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge denied has certification in a class action lawsuit against Mott's for its alleged mislabeling of its products.

U.S. District Judge Susan Y. Illston, of the Northern District of California, said Mohammed Rahman, the named plaintiff in the class action, failed to give an explanation as to why certifying a "liability-only" class would be more efficient or desirable.

"Acknowledging his failure to provide evidence sufficient to demonstrate predominance as to damages, Rahman asks the court to certify a liability-only class...which provides that '[w] hen appropriate, an action may be brought or maintained as a class action with respect to particular issues,'" the order states.

In its summary judgment order, the court held that "Rahman [had] provided an estimate of how much he spent on Mott's 100% Apple Juice (three to five dollars per bottle), as well as the incremental increase in his expenditures that [were] attributable to the allegedly misleading labeling (approximately one additional bottle every two weeks)," according to the order.

"Rahman has failed to articulate why a bifurcated proceeding would be more efficient or desirable," the order states. "In his briefs, he has been vague as to whether he intends to later certify a damages class, allow class members to individually pursue damages  or has some other undisclosed plan for resolving this case."

In any event, none of these options is particularly desirable, according to the order.

Illston said should Rahman prevail on the issue of liability, certifying a second class on the issue of damages would in essence amount to prosecuting two trials when one would have done just as well.

"Alternatively, allowing myriad individual damages claims to go forward hardly seems like a reasonable or efficient alternative, particularly in a case such as this where the average class member is likely to have suffered less than a hundred dollars in damages," the order states.

Illston also rejected a motion filed by Mott's to reconsider a summary judgment that the plaintiff had sufficiently shown evidence of restitution damages under California’s unfair competition law.

Mott’s claimed the court did not consider whether Rahman had shown sufficient evidence of actual damages, according to the ruling.

Rahman provided an estimate of how much he spent on the apple juice every week and, according to Illston, this is sufficient evidence.

"In other words, holding price and supply constant, Rahman’s demand for Mott’s 100 percent apple juice increased solely on account of the allegedly deceptive statement on the label," the order states. "This is competent evidence of restitution damages because it isolates the incremental value associated with the challenged statement and thereby allows for disaggregation of the 'value of what plaintiff received' from what he paid."

The class action was originally filed on June 13, 2013, in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of San Francisco. It was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on July 26, 2013.

A motion for class certification was filed on Aug. 22

Rahman claims Mott's markets and sells Mott's 100% Apple Juice and certain unsweetened apple sauce and fruit products which have labels containing the words "No Sugar Added.:

The labels on the Mott's products violated California state law because they do not comply with certain Food and Drug Administration regulations concerning use of the words "No Sugar Added" on food and beverage labels.

Rahman is represented by Jordan L. Lurie, Mark S. Greenstone, Tarek H. Zohdy and Cody R. Padgett of Capstone Law APC in Los Angeles.

Mott's is represented by Kevin M. Sadler of Baker Botts LLP in Palo Alto, Calif. and Ryan L. Bangert and Van H. Beckwith of Baker Botts in Dallas.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California case number: 3:13-cv-03482

From Legal Newsline: Kyla Asbury can be reached at classactions@legalnewsline.com.

More News

The Record Network