Thursday, January 02, 2014

"Natural" is too vague to be false advertising

Balser v. Hain Celestial Group, Inc., No. CV 13–05604, 2013 WL 6673617 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 18, 2013)
Plaintiffs sued Hain for using “natural” and “100% vegetarian” on over 30 of its cosmetics, and the court dismissed the complaint.  Fraud must be pled with particularity, but plaintiffs didn’t allege what they believed “natural” to mean, or how they relied on and were harmed by that representation.  Under the reasonable consumer standard, “natural” was too vague and ambiguous to be natural.  Plaintiffs’ claim that “natural” meant “existing in or produced by nature; not artificial” was implausible as applied to cosmetics.  “[T]here are no shampoo trees.”  (Aren’t there shampoos made with natural ingredients?  Couldn’t a consumer reasonably think there were?)  Plaintiffs argued that “100% vegetarian” meant only from vegetable matter, but a more common understanding is “without animal products,” as Hain used the term and as further clarified on the labels. 

Moreover, the website said what Hain meant: “We make natural, 100% vegetarian personal care products.... This means we don’t use parabens, sulfates, or phthalates.”  Given Hain’s definition of what it meant by “natural,” the ingredient list on its website, and the labels on the cosmetics explaining what natural ingredients were added, no reasonable consumer could be deceived.

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