LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – A Los Angeles-based attorney who focuses on mass tort litigation and consumer class actions in connection with food,
supplements and other consumer packaged goods said a lawsuit filed in May against
Utz Quality Foods Inc. is one of numerous actions of its kind that are “unjustified.”
Those lawsuits are consumer class actions that challenge the validity of products that use
the word "natural" on their labeling.
“These are lawyer-driven cases seeking to capitalize on the
fact that the term ‘natural’ is undefined by any regulatory agency,” David Biderman
of Perkins Coie LLP told Legal Newsline.
“For any products labeled 'natural,' lawyers seek to find some ingredient that
they can challenge. The ingredients are usually not chemicals, and are derived
or part of plant materials. The lawyers try to suggest that the way the
ingredients are produced make the ingredients not ‘natural.’ They are wrong.”
Lead plaintiff Cyrus Hashtpari of Ventura County, Calif., filed a class action lawsuit in the
U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on May 18 against Utz Quality
Foods, alleging counts of common law fraud, intentional and negligent
misrepresentation, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and violations of
California's civil, business and commercial codes.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges Utz mislabels its
Dirty Potato Chips brand product by claiming the chips are all natural and
contain no preservatives. Despite the all-natural claims on the label, the
plaintiff says in the complaint that the chips actually contain non-natural,
artificial and synthetic ingredients and preservatives.
“These cases are an unjustified attempt to capitalize on the
use of the word 'natural' to somehow suggest that consumers are confused,”
Biderman said. “They are driven by lawyers and, while it appears this trend is
continuing, these cases should not be brought.
"They don’t help the public, and
they create unnecessary issues for food companies who define their labeling in
accordance with the applicable (Food and Drug Administration) regulations.”
The plaintiff is asking
the court to schedule a jury trial, and to award the class compensatory and punitive
damages, as well as restitution, injunctive and declaratory relief, interests,
attorney fees and the costs associated with bringing the suit.
“If the court allows the case to move forward, there are
strong grounds for moving to dismiss the case because the term ‘natural’ is not
sufficiently defined to justify a claim that a reasonable consumer would be
confused or misled,” Biderman said.
In addition, Biderman suggested that the company should ask
the court to dismiss or stay the class action suit under the doctrine of
primary jurisdiction because the FDA has now invited comments on whether it should define the term 'natural.'
“The courts should not intervene in these cases while the
FDA is considering the issue,” Biderman said. “One court - a very informed
panel on the Ninth Circuit, an appellate court, has already stayed a ‘natural’
lawsuit because of the pending FDA proceedings. The case should be stayed or