Judge denies injunctive relief for plaintiff in Newman's Own pasta sauce case

By Mike Helenthal | Jun 6, 2017

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) – A federal judge in New York has come to several conclusions on issues involving a class action suit against the Newman’s Own company alleging deception over its “all natural” pasta sauce labels.

The suit, filed last year on behalf of Hueng Man Wong and other affected consumers, says that the pasta sauce’s ingredient of citric acid is not a natural ingredient under New York’s consumer protection statute.

Early in 2017, attorneys for Newman’s Own were authorized by the court to submit a dismal motion challenging Wong’s standing to sue, and a stay of the suit.

On April 17, a U.S. district judge in the Eastern District of New York granted Newman’s request for the dismissal of injunctive relief, but denied another of its motions to dismiss based on whether plaintiffs have class or jurisdictional standing.

“Here, there is no question that plaintiffs have Article III standing to bring their individual common law claims for negligent misrepresentation, breach of express warranty, and unjust enrichment. Plaintiffs have met the requirements for Article III standing because they have alleged an injury that can be redressed by the court,” the judge wrote. “Plaintiffs also have class standing.”

The judge denied the request for injunctive relief because Wong’s attorneys had not alleged future injury, but granted a stay for Newman’s side under “primary jurisdiction doctrine,” which allows courts to defer to an outside agency’s rules as they pertain to technical information – such as what constitutes a natural ingredient.

Wong had argued that the court was qualified to rule on the issue, but the judge said it would be proper to defer to already established federal guidelines. While the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have a specific regulation defining “natural” or “all natural,” it has an “informal policy” that the term means a product doesn’t contain an ingredient that is artificial or synthetic.

“'The issue for this aspect of primary jurisdiction ... is not whether a judge would be incapable of applying specialized scientific or technical concepts to the question at hand, but whether the federal agency with expertise and some regulatory experience with this issue is more likely to address the task with competence and knowledge arising from its customary duties and experience,'” the opinion said.

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