Lawsuit over Benecol's 'no trans fat' label will continue after judge's ruling

By Charmaine Little | Jun 14, 2018

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) – A food company’s motion to dismiss a suit over its allegedly misleading “no trans fat” label was denied.

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) – A food company’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit over its allegedly misleading “no trans fat” label was denied by U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on March 28.

Suzanna Bowling filed a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and McNeil Nutritionals LLC in May 2017 over their Benecol Spread and Benecol Light Spread products, which have labels that state the products don’t contain any trans fat or trans fatty acid. The plaintiff filed the lawsuit with claims the label is false and deceptive. 

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss or strike the class allegations in the complaint. The court denied both requests.

The defendants stated the plaintiff’s allegations were preempted as the National Labeling and Education Act “expressly preempts state laws that impose labeling requirements different from those imposed by federal law, and plaintiff’s claims allege a state law requirement different from the federal one,” according to the opinion. 

The court determined there was no regulation that authorized the “no trans fat” labeling. When it comes to what federal law says about “no trans fat” claims, the court pointed out the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit discovered federal regulations do not allow “no trans fat” labels.

The court also evaluated the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) warning letters, which also do not permit the “no trans fat” wording. 

“Plaintiff’s argument that ‘no trans fat’ representations are false and/or misleading in this case is thus not preempted expressly or impliedly by federal law,” the opinion stated.

The court did not decide on the plaintiff’s claims that the products were unsafe to eat and stated the defendants could renew that argument at summary judgment.

The court then addressed the motion to strike the class allegation and denied the request as it stated it was filed prematurely.

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