Last week, a court in the Central District of California certified classes in eleven states over claims that Wesson Oil products are not “100% Natural.” In the lawsuit, plaintiffs claim that ConAgra misled them by labeling Wesson cooking oil “100% natural,” even though the oils contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
No receipts required
Strongly on one side of the split in the Ninth Circuit, Judge Margaret M. Morrow rejected defendant’s argument that the class—who largely has no records of even purchasing the oil—would not be ascertainable.
Judge Morrow found that, even if they had no record of purchase, purchasers could reasonably ascertain whether they should be class members. She explained that more stringent requirements—such as requiring proof of purchase or actual injury for each class member—might preclude consumer class actions involving low-priced goods altogether.
Damages depend on premium pricing and consumer preference
The court also found the class had alleged an injury sufficient to establish standing. The class alleged they were injured because they paid a higher premium for an all-natural product, believing it would not contain GMOs, but did not receive this product. The court reasoned that market data reflecting this premium would be sufficient, even though several plaintiffs conceded that they might purchase the product again.
Additionally, the court approved a damages model attempting to measure the price premium paid by consumers because they believed the product did not contain GMOs. Although the court previously rejected a damages model using the “all natural” price premium because it deemed it “overbroad,” the new more narrow model uses various consumer preference analytics to try to determine the value of the cooking oil without the implied representation that it did not contain GMOs.
Injunctive relief, however, may still be hard for plaintiff classes to obtain. The court denied certification of an injunctive relief class, finding that plaintiffs could not establish a real, immediate threat of repeated injury. Consumers could avoid another alleged injury simply by not purchasing this particular cooking oil in the future, now that they know it contains GMOs.