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April 30th, 2012

Potato Chip ‘Labeling’ Suit Latest of Ridiculous Consumer Class Actions in Northern California

Wilson v. Frito Lay is the latest food-related class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, adding to the growing wave of ridiculous consumer class action lawsuits filed there. 

As first reported in an article for Forbes by Glenn Lammi of the Washington Legal Foundation, the Northern District of CA has become for “misled” food consumers what the Eastern District of Texas is for patent trolls.  Plaintiffs attorneys are flocking to the court with ginned up class actions, alleging that food labeling has misled consumers about nutritional values.  For example, in the most recent potato chip case, the lead plaintiff is arguing that by placing the factually true statement “0 grams Trans Fat” on the front of a bag of potato chips, the manufacturer duped consumers into believing that the snack food made only positive contributions to their diet.  The plaintiff states that federal labeling regulations require said statement to be accompanied by “See Nutrition information for ___ content” if the product contains a certain amount of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium. 

Under the First Amendment, manufacturers are protected from any more extensive regulation than is needed to advance the government’s substantial state interest.  Isn’t requiring producers to print “see nutrition label” with a nutrient content claim, when the label already is printed on the package itself, inherently more extensive than necessary?  Will adding the suggested language really prevent consumers from being “mislead” and thinking the snack is healthy?  It is no secret that potato chips are not a health food, so consumers should not be surprised by their nutritional value, or lack there of.

The growing trend of preposterous lawsuits being filed in the Northern District of California is of great concern because it mirrors what has been occurring in the Eastern District of Texas with its disproportionate share of patent lawsuits filings.  In California, where state law encourages self-serving personal injury lawyers to concoct theoretical classes of iditoic consumers (e.g., consumers who might actually believe potato chips are a health food), litigation continues to drive companies out of the state, as the unemployment rate stubbornly remains one of the highest in the nation. 

Food labeling should be clear and concise, but “regulation through litigation” is not the way to go.  And under no circumstances should regulatory standards be driven by the alleged comprehension of imbeciles, nor should lawyers for said imbeciles be allowed to extort large cash settlements from food makers.

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