Calif. SC ruling could lead to more class actions over 'organic' labels

By Kerry Goff | Jan 7, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - The California Supreme Court recently decided that private citizens could bring state court actions against produce companies that allegedly falsely label their products “organic.”

The court ruled that the federal Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) does not preempt more stringent state regulations. This ruling reversed two lower court rulings supporting the defendants in the case.

The plaintiff in the case, Michelle Quesada, sued Herb Thyme Farms, arguing she paid extra because the company labeled its products "Fresh Organic."

“I really didn’t find it surprising that the Supreme Court would overturn two lower decisions because the food and beverage group of the firm has been following the case for a while,” Joshua D. Cohen, attorney at Wendel Rosen Black and Dean, LLC recently told Legal Newsline.

“When the Supreme Court said they would hear the case, especially since two other courts made similar decisions, we were not surprised.

“California is a plaintiff-friendly area. Add in foodie fanatics in the north district court in San Francisco, you get many plaintiffs and sympathetic juries to litigations involving food."

The case originated in Los Angeles County Superior Court, and the Supreme Court's opinion was issued Dec. 3.

Quesada alleged that she believed the product was 100 percent organic but was disappointed to find that organic produce was blended with non-organic produce.

Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote the opinion, finding state lawsuits alleging organic mislabeling will promote, and not hinder, Congress' intention in passing OFPA.

Cohen says it will also promote more lawsuits.

"After this ruling, there will most definitely be more litigation and it will affect more businesses who use the ‘organic’ label," he said. 

"Businesses try to protect themselves with careful and better advertising, as well as obtaining additional insurance. Still, this is not going to change anytime soon and more businesses will be affected, especially in San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

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