On May 14, 2014, Blackwell Burke P.A. secured a complete victory for General Mills, Inc. in a putative nationwide class action over the alleged false advertising of the company’s Nature Valley snack bars. The named plaintiffs Tracie Chin and Salvatore Montalbano claimed that the company misled consumers by labeling its Nature Valley snack bars as “100% Natural” when the products contained the allegedly non-natural ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, high maltose corn syrup, and maltodextrin. The plaintiffs sought certification of a nationwide class of Nature Valley purchasers as well as subclasses of New York and New Jersey buyers, in addition to compensatory, treble and punitive damages; injunctive relief; restitution; and reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses.
The dismissal comes nearly a year after the Court granted General Mills’ motion to dismiss, which drastically pared down the plaintiffs’ claims (Chin v. Gen. Mills, Inc., No. CIV. 12-2150 MJD/TNL, 2013 WL 2420455 (D. Minn. June 3, 2013).) Firm partner Mary S. Young argued the successful motion. In ruling in General Mills’ favor, Judge Davis agreed that the company had not breached an express warranty because there was no warranty in the first place: “The court agrees with General Mills and finds that the specific terms determine the scope of the express warranty that was allegedly made to the plaintiffs,” the order said. “As such, General Mills cannot be in breach of an express warranty by including the ingredient that it expressly informed consumers was included.”
The Court also agreed with General Mills that the named plaintiffs lacked standing to seek relief on behalf of absent class members for products they themselves did not purchase. The Court held, “[t]he named plaintiffs in a class action may not rely on injuries that the putative class may have suffered, but instead must allege that they personally have been injured.” Accordingly, the Court dismissed claims related to products that Chin and Montalbano never alleged they purchased.
Finally, the order dismissed the plaintiffs’ numerous fraud-based claims for failure to meet the heightened pleading standard of Rule 9(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure reasoning, “Plaintiffs have failed to plead how they were deceived by the ‘100% Natural’ statement. Relatedly, Plaintiffs have not alleged with any specificity what they believed ‘100% Natural’ to mean.”
Plaintiffs subsequently dismissed their remaining New York state law claims, and the lawsuit, after General Mills served discovery.
Blackwell Burke P.A., a litigation and trial boutique in Minneapolis, Minnesota, serves as national trial and litigation counsel for several Fortune 500 companies. The firm has extensive experience in class action defense, commercial litigation, food industry defense, labor and employment, products liability, toxic tort litigation, and trial practice. The firm has represented corporate clients in practically every jurisdiction in the country, as well as several foreign countries.