Certification would lead to settling of class actions over Parmesan, ATRA says

By Rebecca Campbell | May 23, 2016

CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) – Illinois resident Yvonne Averhart was one of many who filed a class action lawsuit against SuperValu Inc. last month, alleging that the company represents that its grated Parmesan cheese product is composed of 100 percent cheese when it actually consists of a mixture of cheese and non-cheese filler substance derived from wood chips.

In her suit, filed on April 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Averhart alleges violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, breach of express and implied warranties, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, and unjust enrichment.

In order to provide the validity of the case, an American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) spokesman said the judge should require Averhart's lawyers to show minimum evidence that the cheese product is insufficiently cheesy before certifying the class.

“If a class is certified, the defendant will almost certainly settle rather than risk a catastrophic verdict at trial,” Darren McKinney, spokesman for the American Tort Reform Association, told Legal Newsline.

After Bloomberg News wrote about some brands of parmesan containing no cheese at all earlier this year, a number of class action suits started popping up around the country, naming such companies as Kraft Heinz, Castle Cheese Inc. and Target as defendants. 

The cheese -- or non-cheese -- in question contains substitutes and fillers such as cellulose, also known as an anti-clumping agent derived from wood pulp, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

While the substitutes and fillers have not been found to be harmful for human consumption, the legal issue here is how products have been misrepresented.

McKinney claims, however, that the suits are nothing more than a game for class action lawyers.

“They know that if they can convince a judge to certify a class, virtually every defendant will promptly seek to settle, regardless of the facts of the case and/or whether the defendant earnestly believes it did no wrong,” he said.

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