CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) – A federal judge in New York has rejected a nearly $1 million class action settlement against Harmless Harvest, believing that it was "not fair, reasonable and adequate."
U.S. District Judge Joan M. Azrack also wrote in the March 31 order that the court was not satisfied that the class has received adequate representation.
The lawsuit was originally filed on Dec. 23, 2016, by Guoliang Ma, Elizabeth Peguero, Sharon Manier and Kin Fai Lau against Harmless Harvest.
The plaintiffs claimed that Harmless Harvest engaged in false and misleading labeling, packaging and marketing for its coconut water products over its organic and "raw" claims.
Harmless Harvest voluntarily removed the "raw" and "100 percent organic" labels from its products prior to the filing of the lawsuit.
The settlement agreement filed in the case provided $575,000 in attorneys' fees, expenses, costs and incentive awards and included $20,000 to be divided between the named plaintiffs, according to the order.
By the end of the class-action notice period, one class member opted out and two objected to the settlement. A fairness hearing was also held on Nov. 3.
A class member who opted out, Jason Bowerman, objected to the settlement "because it 'provides not financial compensation to all of the class member that were misled due to false advertising," the opinion states.
Azrack disagreed with the plaintiffs' counsel that the settlement provides substantial injunctive relief, according to the order.
Azrack said in the order that the class would be receiving valueless injunctive relief in exchange for a broad release, which she felt was substantively unfair.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Class Action Fairness (represented Anna St. John, one of the class members who objected to the settlement.
Adam Schulman, an attorney with CEI, said in a press release that the district court properly recognized that the settlement did not benefit the class members and agreed with the federal court judge.
The plaintiffs were represented by C.K. Lee, Anne Seelig, Angela Saeyun Kwon and Taimur Alamgir of Lee Litigation Group in New York, New York.
Harmless Harvest was represented by Robert Wolinsky of Hogan Lovells US LLP in Washington, D.C.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York case number 2:16-cv-07102