Motions to dismiss in consumer fraud cases often focus on the element of deception—whether a reasonable consumer would be deceived by the statement or practice at issue. But there is another element of statutory consumer fraud claims that deserves closer scrutiny at the pleading stage—injury. Where plaintiffs claim that they were injured because they paid a “price premium” but do not allege facts to support that claim, defendants should consider moving to dismiss for failure to adequately plead injury.
State consumer protection statutes typically include injury as a required element for a private cause of action. New York General Business Law Sections 349 and 350, for example, require a plaintiff to establish that she purchased a product because of the allegedly deceptive business practice and did not receive the full value of the purchase. Similarly, plaintiffs suing under California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, or Consumer Legal Remedies Act must establish that they suffered an “economic injury” caused by the practice or advertising at issue.
A federal court in New York recently granted a motion to dismiss claims that ice cream labeled “vanilla” misleads consumers into believing the product’s flavor comes exclusively from vanilla beans or extract, when in fact other natural flavors contribute to the vanilla taste. The decision may be a harbinger of what is to come in similar cases challenging the label description of vanilla and other flavors in products ranging from ice cream to soy milk to energy drinks. The decision also shows that alleged regulatory violations and product testing do not necessarily support a plausible claim of consumer deception.
The Ninth Circuit recently rejected a plaintiff’s request for attorneys’ fees under the so-called catalyst theory where the changes the defendant made in an effort to effectively moot the case were different from the changes the plaintiff had demanded in the litigation. The decision illustrates that a creative fix to an alleged issue may deter a plaintiff’s counsel from pursuing the case without entitling them to a fee award under the catalyst theory.