Friday, February 7, 2020
Court of Appeal:
Hoffstadt’s Opinion Finds Consumer Protection Laws Aren’t Breached
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Depicted above are bottles of Califia Farm’s tangerine juice. The Court of Appeal held yesterday that the truthful representation “No Sugar Added” does not falsely imply that competing products do have added sugar.
California’s consumer protection laws are not violated by the manufacturer of a fruit juice that truthfully proclaims on its label “No Sugar Added,” the Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday, rejecting the contention that falsity lies in the implied representation that competing products do contain a sweetener.
Also spurned was the argument that the label fails to meet federal labeling requirements, and thus comes under the California Unfair Competition Law’s prohibition on “unlawful” business acts.
Justice Brian Hoffstadt of Div. Two authored the opinion. It affirms a judgment of dismissal that followed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones sustaining a demurrer to the complaint of Michelle Shaeffer without leave to amend.
“Where a product label accurately states that the product has ‘no sugar added,’ is a reasonable consumer likely to view that statement as a representation that competing products do have sugar added, which, if untrue, renders the product label at issue deceptive? We conclude that the answer is ‘no,’ and do so as a matter of law.”
In her putative class action complaint, Shaeffer said she bought a bottle of Cuties brand tangerine juice, manufactured by Califia Farms LLC, based on the assurance that sugar was not added. She averred that she chose that brand over others, in part, because “she is diabetic.”
Liability would attach, Hoffstadt said, if Califia said on the labels, “The Only One with No Sugar Added.” That, he noted, “would have affirmatively and effectively stated that all other tangerine juices added sugar and that the Cuties Juice was the superior, healthier choice.”
In that event, Califia could face a lawsuit for trade disparagement brought by a competitor “and, if untrue, by consumers under the Unfair Competition Law, false advertising law” and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, he remarked.
The jurist found it unreasonable to suppose that a consumer, seeing Califia’s label, would read-in the words, “The Only One with,” explaining:
“An example vividly makes our point: Assume that a new airline runs an ad with a tagline, ‘No Hijackers Allowed.’ Is a reasonable consumer likely to infer that other airlines do allow hijackers and that the new airline is consequently the safer choice? We think the answer to this question is ‘no.’ ”
“[P]laintiff alleges that Califia’s inclusion of ‘No Sugar Added’ on the Cuties Juice label implies that ‘competing brands’ ‘do contain added sugar,’ that Cuties Juice is ‘different and healthier than [these] competing brands of tangerine juice’ and that consumers are likely to be deceived because not all of those competing brands contain added sugar. Because…a reasonable consumer is not likely to engage in these inferential leaps, we conclude that the ‘No Sugar Added’ label on Cuties Juice is not actionable as a matter of law.”
Schaeffer pointed out that a federal labeling regulation bars use of the words “no sugar added” unless the “food it resembles and for which it substitutes normally contains added sugars.” She maintained that the “food that Cuties Juices resembles and substitutes for is 100% tangerine juice,” which “does not normally contain added sugars.”
Jones’s answer to that contention was that “the product Cuties Juice ‘resembles’ and ‘substitutes for’ is ‘all fruit juices,’ some of which “normally contain added sugars.”
Hoffstadt said there is no requirement that the product in question be compared to the identical product of another manufacturer.
“Because the sole food that plaintiff alleges substitutes for Cuties Juice is ‘100% tangerine juice,’ and because we conclude that the ‘food’ that the product ‘resembles and for which it substitutes’ may not solely be the identical food, plaintiff has failed to allege that Cuties Juice does not satisfy this prerequisite,” he wrote, adding:
“At this point, we need not decide whether the relevant ‘food’ for comparison is all tangerine juices or instead, as the trial court cited, ‘all fruit juices.’ What matters is that there is no allegation that either of these broader universes of foods does not ‘normally contain added sugars.’ ”
The plaintiff also asserted that the label is unlawful because, under a federal requirement, it must specify “that the food is not ‘low calorie’ or ‘calorie reduced’ (unless the food meets the requirements for a ‘low’ or ‘reduced calorie’ food),” and the label fails to specify that the juice is not “low calorie” or “calorie reduced.” Hoffstadt responded that Schaefer “does not have standing to bring a claim based on the omission of this language because…she has not alleged that her decision to purchase the Cuties Juice had anything to do with its calorie content.”
The case is Shaeffer v. Califia Farms, LLC, 2020 S.O.S. 488.
Ryan H. Wu, and Robert K. Friedl of the Century Park firm of Capstone Law acted for Schaeffer. Sascha Henry of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton represented Califia Farms.
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