maple and brown sugarFood Court Follies—A WLF Legal Pulse Series

Last November, a Food Court Follies series post offered two-cheers for a Central District of California judge’s dismissal of consolidated class actions filed against Quaker Oats (In re Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal Litigation). The two cheers were for properly finding that federal law preempted the suit because it would impose novel (i.e. additional) labeling requirements.

We withheld the third cheer in part because the court not only failed to dismiss the suit with prejudice, but it also counseled the plaintiffs on how they could re-plead around his preemption ruling. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on November 10, 2017.

The plaintiffs’ changes apparently amounted to “lipstick on a pig,” because on March 8, the court again dismissed the suit, this time with prejudice.

Federal regulations permit Quaker Oats to use the term “Maple” in the product name, even though it contains no maple, as long as that flavoring is indicated as an ingredient. As counseled by the court in its previous ruling, the plaintiffs newly alleged that “Maple” misled them to believe that Quaker Oats used maple syrup as a sweetener.

The plaintiffs, however failed to allege that Quaker Oats violated any relevant federal rules. One of the rules plaintiffs cited dictates that ingredients, including any sweeteners, must be listed by their common name. The suit, of course, alleged that the lack of maple syrup in a product called “Maple and Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal” was misleading. The ingredient rule, therefore, did not help the plaintiffs because “it simply cannot apply to an ingredient not contained in the food.”

The court earned our third cheer for its dismissal with prejudice this time around.