Plaintiffs’ lawyers love to challenge products labeled as “natural,” with hundreds of false advertising class actions filed in just the last few years. Recently, in Astiana v. Hain Celestial (pdf), the Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of one such class action, and in doing so, addressed some key recurring arguments made at the pleading stage
The plaintiffs’ bar often uses adventuresome choice-of-law arguments to attempt to grease the skids towards certification of nationwide classes. Earlier this year, in a blockbuster decision, the Ninth Circuit rejected one of plaintiffs’ key arguments in Mazza v. American Honda Motor Co. (pdf), 666 F.3d 581 (9th Cir. 2012). In that case, the plaintiffs had argued that California consumer-protection law should apply to the claims of all putative class members nationwide because the alleged wrongdoing supposedly emanated from that state. The Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiffs’ approach would contravene fundamental principles of federalism by ignoring the materially different consumer protection laws of the other states where the challenged transactions actually occurred. (Mayer Brown represented defendant Honda; here is our report on the decision.)
Since then, plaintiffs in consumer false advertising cases have scrambled to find ways to answer Mazza. One tactic—used frequently against food companies—is to bring nationwide class claims under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA), 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301 et seq. Plaintiffs assumed that the existence of a federal claim—allowing the entire nationwide class’s claims to be evaluated under federal law—would do the trick. Plaintiffs thus often allege that statements on a product label, such as “All-Natural Ingredients,” constitute a written warranty by the manufacturer under the MMWA and that a breach of that warranty occurred when consumers did not realize the advertised benefits.