“Vanilla” Milk Claims Continue to Sour as Southern District of New York Dismisses Putative Class Action Complaint

As we discussed in a previous post, the Northern District of California recently dismissed a plaintiff’s claim that the term “vanilla” was misleading on the label of a soymilk product.  The Southern District of New York has now similarly dismissed a putative class action complaint alleging that a “vanilla” almond milk product was labeled in a way that misled customers.

In Wynn v. Topco Associates, LLC, No. 19-cv-11104, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant’s use of the word “vanilla” on the label of its almond milk product – “Vanilla Almost Milk” – falsely communicated to consumers that the beverage’s flavor was derived entirely from real vanilla, when in fact the product includes non-vanilla flavorings.  Plaintiffs claimed, among other things, that this violated the New York General Business Law (NYGBL).

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No Damages? No Tort, Says the Supreme Court of Canada

Consider this: What if plaintiffs could assert a cause of action for negligence without proving, or even pleading, any actual damages? And what if the remedy for this damage-free tort claim were disgorgement of profits allegedly acquired by a breach?

This may seem foreign to American tort lawyers, but for Canadian litigants this cause of action has a name, albeit a confusing one: waiver of tort. It is often pled as an independent, gain-based cause of action, and it is a source of frustration and controversy for our friends in the True North. Indeed, class certification grounded in waiver of tort forces defendants to face the prospect of disgorgement without proof that any class member actually suffered damage, even though these commonly advanced claims have never fully been tried in Canada. Canadian scholars have suggested that this uncertainty has the potential to drive settlement negotiations unfairly in the class context.

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Strange Bedfellows – How a Recent Security Fraud Opinion May Impact Consumer Fraud Class Actions

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Liu v. SEC, No. 18-1501 (June 22, 2020), limiting the SEC’s ability to obtain monetary equitable relief in securities fraud litigation, may seem an odd topic for this blog.  But Liu is worth some attention because it may foreshadow an impact on calculation and distribution of monetary awards in consumer fraud class actions.  The decision may influence the calculation of disgorgement or restitutionary remedies, and it may signal another hurdle for the controversial judge-made distribution mechanism, cy pres.
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“Vanilla” Ice Cream Deceptive Labeling Case Melts on Motion to Dismiss

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.

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New Jersey Supreme Court Pumps the Brakes on Use of Aggregate Proof of Damages in Kia Class Action

In Little v. Kia Motors America, Inc., docket no. A-24-18, the New Jersey Supreme Court recently set out the examination New Jersey courts must undertake before admitting aggregate proof of damages, rather than individualized proof, in a class action. Siding with defendant Kia in a vehicle defect suit, the Court ruled that admission of aggregate proof of damages at trial was inappropriate because an unknown number of class members would have received a windfall, and the formula used to estimate such damages was unreliable. This case reviews the key principles courts and litigants should consider when choosing between individualized or aggregate proof of damages in a class action.

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Ninth Circuit’s Ingredients List Rule Keeps Nestlé in Hot Water with Denial of Nestlé’s Statute of Limitations-Based Summary Judgment Motion

The Northern District of California recently applied the Ninth Circuit’s ingredients list rule in a putative class action decision. The Court refused to grant Nestlé USA Inc.’s summary judgment motion based on the statute of limitations in a suit involving allegations that Nestlé misleads consumers about the trans-fat content of their Coffee Mate creamer products. The Court held that a triable issue of fact remained because it was not clear when the consumer first learned about the alleged deception.

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