Thursday, March 12, 2020

negative inference about other juices from "no sugar added" on D's juice is implausible

Shaeffer v. Califia Farms, LLC, 44 Cal.App.5th 1125, No. B291085 (Feb. 6, 2020)

Califia sells a “100% Tangerine Juice.” The front label includes “100% Tangerine Juice,” “No Sugar Added,” and “Never From Concentrate.” Shaeffer brought the usual California claims, alleging that she chose Califia’s Cuties juice over “other, similar tangerine juices” because its label “stated ‘No Sugar Added’ ” and because “she is diabetic.” She alleged that the label falsely implied that other, similar tangerine juices had added sugar. The court thought that wasn’t a reasonable inference from the truthful statements on the label as a matter of law.  A reasonable consumer was unlikely to make those inferential leaps, which would make almost any truthful claim about product attributes “fodder for litigation”: “Assume that a new airline runs an ad with a tagline, ‘No Hijackers Allowed.’ Is a reasonable consumer likely to infer that other airlines do allow hijackers and that the new airline is consequently the safer choice? We think the answer to this question is ‘no.’”  Deceptiveness is usually a factual question, but not here.
Shaeffer also alleged that the label was “unlawful” under the UCL because it does not comply with two of the five prerequisites that must be satisfied before a label may state “no sugar added” under a federal labeling regulation: (1) “the [product] that [Cuties Juice] resembles and for which it substitutes”—that is, “100% tangerine juice”—does not “normally contain added sugars,” and (2) the label does not also “bear[ ] a statement that it is not ‘low calorie’ or ‘calorie reduced’ ” and does not “direct[ ] consumers’ attention to the [product’s] nutrition panel.”  The court rejected the first argument—although there is a judicial split on this, the court found that a product cannot substitute for itself. Some courts reason that the “substitute” food for “juices with no added sugar” are “juices with added sugar, fruit-flavored soft drinks sweetened with sugar, or other sugar-sweetened beverages,” but the court didn’t resolve the question of whether the universe was tangerine juice or some larger class of juices because there was no allegation that either of these broader universes of foods does not “normally contain added sugars.”

As for the second, failure to use a statement disclaiming low/reduced caloric content, Shaeffer didn’t allege that she relied on the omission of the calorie statment. Shaeffer argued that “ ‘a presumption, or at least, an inference of reliance arises whenever there is a showing that a misrepresentation [or omission] is material’ ” and that the omission of the “not ‘low calorie’ or ‘calorie reduced’ ” statement from the label was material as a matter of law because its inclusion is (sometimes) mandated by the federal regulation. Even if this presumption were relevant to a claim based on unlawfulness and even assuming that it applies to a named plaintiff as well as to class members, the presumption was rebutted by her affirmative allegations that she actually relied on other reasons in deciding whether to buy the juice. Shaeffer also argued that reliance could come from an omission being “a substantial factor[ ] in influencing [her] decision” to buy a product, but she didn’t allege that low calorie content was one of many reasons for her purchase. And her diabetes made sugar material to her, but did not justify the inference that calorie content mattered.

No comments: