A New York federal district court dismissed a putative class action asserting violations of state and federal consumer protection laws, fraud and unjust enrichment arising from claims that it was misleading to label juice products as “cold pressed” when there was subsequent processing of the juice.1 Plaintiff’s primary theory was that consumers expect products described as “cold pressed” to be fresh, and that the defendant’s product was no longer fresh because it had been processed after being cold pressed. Similar to other decisions arising from claims of mislabeling based on a plaintiff’s purported “expectation,” the court focused on whether a reasonable consumer would have been misled. In this instance, the court found that plaintiff had “anchor[ed] her claim around her misconceptions of what cold pressed juice actually is.”
As alleged in the complaint, defendant manufactured and sold organic fruit and vegetable beverages. After the juice beverages were “cold pressed” – a process of extracting juice from fruits and beverages – they were then subjected to “high pressure processing” (also known as “cold pressure”) – a method used to preserve the juice for up to 60 days. The front seal contained a “High Pressure Certified” seal on the bottom of the front label, and the back label stated, “we pick our favorite local fruits and veggies and then chill them out with cold pressure to keep them feeling fresh and tasting delicious.”
Assessing the deceptive business practice claims under New York law, the court relied on the objective standard that a deceptive act or practice was one likely to mislead a reasonable consumer acting reasonably under the circumstances. The court considered plaintiff’s allegations that she believed that the juice was not processed based on the contents of the front label, the product’s placement in the store in proximity to cold-pressed juices that were not processed and the lack of any conspicuous disclosure of additional treatment methods.
The court determined that, when viewed in the context of a reasonable consumer, the allegations insufficiently pleaded that the product was materially misleading. The court took issue with the fact that plaintiff did not notice the “High Pressure Certified” seal on the front label, did not review the back label description and did not know what cold or high pressure was relative to processing of juice. The court further noted that it is widely known that unprocessed juices are required to contain warning labels informing consumers of harmful bacteria risks.
The court found the remaining warranty, fraud and unjust enrichment claims equally unavailing. In evaluating the claims under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA), the court noted that the statute required plaintiff to adequately plead a cause of action for breach of an implied or express warranty under state law. As to implied warranty, the court found there was no allegation that the juice was unfit for ordinary purposes – i.e., human consumption. As to express warranty, the court noted that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that defendant misrepresented its product as being unprocessed. Similarly, the court determined that the fraud claims failed to plausibly allege a materially false representation or an intent to defraud. The court deemed the unjust enrichment claim as duplicative of the others.
One important takeaway is the court’s general reminder that, for purposes of a deceptive business practices claim, a “reasonable consumer” does not lack common sense and is not assumed to be the least sophisticated consumer. In this specific context, the court recognized that such a reasonable consumer would understand a clear distinction between the process of pressurization to extract juice and the separate process of pressurization to render the juice shelf stable. The common sense inquiry was essential to the court’s determination that the plaintiff had not moved its claims from conceivable to plausible.
1 Lumbra v. Suja Life, LLC, 2023 WL 3687424 (N.D.N.Y. May 26, 2023).