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Slack Fill Class Actions Continue to Flood The Courts

As we reported last year, slack fill litigation remains on the rise.  Plaintiffs continue to file consumer lawsuits – typically putative class actions – alleging food packaging is deceptive because it contains empty space, or nonfunctional slack fill, and disguises the amount of product in the package.

This roundup of recent decisions demonstrates that more plaintiffs are getting past early pleading challenges but likely will face significant barriers to success at summary judgment and class certification.

On February 16, 2018, a Missouri federal district court denied Nestlé’s motion to dismiss in Hawkins v. Nestlé USA, Inc., No. 4:17CV205 -HEA, 2018 WL 926130 (W.D. Mo. Feb. 16, 2018) challenging allegations that boxes of Raisinets candy contain 45% nonfunctional slack fill. In its motion to dismiss, Nestlé argued that a reasonable consumer would instantly realize the package was half-empty because of its “maraca-like rattle.” Id. at *5. The court rejected this

Ninth Circuit Strikes Down Parts of Idaho’s Ag-Gag Law; Other Laws Face Legal Challenges

The Ninth Circuit’s recent decision striking down parts of Idaho’s ag-gag law, which aims to deter undercover investigation by making it a crime to lie to gain entry into animal facilities, is the latest court decision to hold that lies and false statements, without more, are protected under the First Amendment, but may ultimately provide a framework for drafters to create an ag-gag law that passes constitutional scrutiny.

In the meantime, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments yesterday in a challenge to North Carolina’s ag-gag law mounted by a coalition of animal-protection, consumer-rights, and food-safety organizations. The law took effect on January 1, 2016, after North Carolina’s Republican-controlled state legislature overrode a veto of the bill by the state’s former governor. The coalition, led by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), filed suit days after the law took effect.

Utah, Wyoming, Iowa, and Missouri have

California Proposition 65 Actions Expected to Target Furfuryl Alcohol in Food and Beverages

The next wave of lawsuits involving California Proposition 65 and food products may allege exposure to furfuryl alcohol, a chemical commonly found in a wide variety of thermally processed foods and listed as a carcinogen under Proposition 65. The warning requirement for furfuryl alcohol took effect on September 30, 2017.  As of the date of this post, there have been no 60-day notices alleging exposure without a warning. Given the prevalence of this chemical, however, future enforcement actions seem likely.

Furfuryl alcohol forms when amino acids react with sugar in a process known as the “Maillard reaction” that gives many foods a golden brown color.  Much like acrylamide, which has been the subject of numerous 60-day notices and lawsuits, furfuryl alcohol can be found in a wide variety of foods, including:

  • baked goods
  • coffee
  • pasteurized milk
  • alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer
  • ice cream
  • juice beverages
  • toasted nuts

Ninth Circuit Blocks San Francisco’s Warnings Ordinance for Sweetened Beverages

In a decision likely to have important implications for regulation of commercial speech, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked a San Francisco ordinance requiring warnings about the health effects of certain sugar-sweetened beverages on fixed advertising.

In American Beverage Association v. the City and County of San Francisco, a three-judge panel held that the California Retailers Association, American Beverage Association, and the California State Outdoor Advertising Association are likely to prevail in their lawsuit challenging the ordinance as violating the First Amendment, and reversed the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the ordinance.

The ordinance, S.F. Health Code § 4200 through 4206, was enacted in June 2015 and would require the following warning on any advertisement that “identifies, promotes, or markets a Sugar-Sweetened Beverage for sale or use”:

“WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message

FDA Delays Implementing Nutrition and Supplement Facts Label Rules

June 16, 2017


The FDA has announced that it is delaying implementation of the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts Label and Serving Size final rules.  As we previously reported, the rules were finalized in May 2016 and initially set a general compliance date of July 26, 2018, although manufacturers with annual food sales of less than $10 million were given an additional year to comply.

The FDA did not elaborate on the new timeframe for implementation, but stated in a revised online guidance that it will provide details of the extension through a Federal Register Notice at a later time.

The rules require a revamped Nutrition Facts format that would increase the type size of certain nutrition information, require mandatory declarations for “added sugars,” Vitamin D and potassium, impose a new definition of “dietary fiber,” and revise serving sizes for certain food products.

The FDA explained that the extension was in response to

The Last Unicorn… Frappuccino?

While the mythical unicorn is a rare creature, it has recently become a marketing phenomenon, with the unicorn’s rainbow-laden powers being harnessed to sell unicorn-themed products that can cover you from literally head to toe, i.e., from makeup (such as “Unicorn Snot®”, a glitter gel) to slippers and even a toilet spray made with “unicorn farts” (Squatty Potty’s “Unicorn Gold®”). Perhaps inevitably, brand owners have begun to battle over who can lay claim to a unicorn trademark. And this includes drinks that sound like coffee (but largely are not).

Click here to read the Alert prepared by Bryan Cave attorneys Eric Schroeder, Steven Alagna and Nick Williamson in full.

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