Seen frequently on grocery items, and especially on dietary supplements, structure/function claims describe the role of a nutrient or ingredient in the structure or function of the human body. Examples include “Calcium builds strong bones,” “St. John’s Wort supports mood,” and “Vitamin E supports the immune system.”
The FDA defines and regulates structure/function claims, and FDA requirements generally preempt state-law requirements that are “not identical.” 21 U.S.C. § 343-1(a)(5). So, does compliance with FDA regulations for structure/function claims shield food and supplement manufacturers from lawsuits claiming their structure/function claims are false and misleading?
The Ninth Circuit affirmed dismissal of a consumer fraud class action pursuing restitution under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) because the plaintiff failed to show she lacked an adequate legal remedy. Sonner v. Premier Nutrition, No. 18-15890 (9th Cir. June 18, 2020). In doing so, the Ninth Circuit resolved a split in the California federal courts regarding whether plaintiffs may pursue solely equitable relief under the UCL, Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), or False Advertising Law (FAL) when legal damages under the CLRA are available in the same amount for the same alleged harm. This decision has important implications for consumer class actions in California federal courts.
A putative class action complaint alleging that a product labeled “Premium Baking Chips Classic White Chips” deceptively implied the product contained white chocolate has been dismissed after a federal court held that no reasonable consumer would be deceived because the product nowhere stated “chocolate” or “cocoa,” and the ingredient list plainly disclosed the product did not contain those ingredients. The decision reflects a growing trend of district courts limiting the Ninth Circuit’s Williams v. Gerber rule that a reasonable consumer need not examine the ingredient list.