Tag Archives Massachusetts

Consumers have filed lawsuits alleging that companies misrepresent their products as "natural" because they contain d-malic acid. One lawsuit targets Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., alleging it mislabels its juices as free from artificial flavors despite containing d-malic acid rather than the naturally occurring l-malic acid. Froio v. Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., No. 18-12005 (D. Mass., filed September 24, 2018). The complaint further alleges that the juices contain furmaric acid, which is "manufactured from petrochemical feedstock, either benzene or butane, through chemical transformation to maleic anhydride." The plaintiffs argue that a "reasonable consumer understands Defendant's claims that the Products contain no 'artificial' flavoring to mean that the flavoring is derived from a natural source." For allegations of fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and violations of New York and Massachusetts consumer-protection statutes, the plaintiffs seek class certification, damages, injunctive relief, restitution and attorney's fees. Two consumers have alleged that Neurobrands LLC also…

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has vetoed a state environmental bond bill containing a provision that would allow raw milk sales at farm stands and via home delivery, citing a need for stricter regulation of raw milk. “Consumption of unpasteurized milk can result in foodborne illness and possible death due to bacterial infections, especially among infants, children, pregnant women, immunosuppressed patients, and the elderly,” Baker’s veto states. “The risk of foodborne illness due to consumption of raw milk increases with the number of people handling the raw milk prior to consumption, and the length of time between production and consumption. As such, it is important that any expansion of the sale of raw milk in the Commonwealth be done in such a way that it protects those who choose to consume it.” The veto includes suggested updates that would tighten restrictions on raw milk, including the establishment of licenses maintained by…

Burger King Corp. faces a civil-rights lawsuit after an employee at a Boston location accused a man of trying to pay for food with an allegedly counterfeit $10 bill, refused to return the bill and called the police when the man would not leave the restaurant. Ellis v. Burger King Corp., No. 1884-CV-01489 (Mass. Super. Ct., Suffolk Cty., filed May 14, 2018). The plaintiff, who is homeless and black, alleges that when he was arraigned, he was charged with possession of counterfeit notes and a probation violation and was subsequently held without bail from November 12, 2015, until February 19, 2016. He was reportedly released when the U.S. Secret Service notified the prosecutor that the $10 bill was authentic and not counterfeit. Burger King allegedly did not return the $10 bill to the man. Claiming conversion, defamation, negligence and violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, the plaintiff seeks attorney's fees and $950,000…

A consumer has filed a putative class action alleging New England Coffee Company (NECC) mislabels its Hazelnut Crème Coffee by failing to include a front-label disclosure that the product contains natural and artificial flavors. Dumont v. Reily Foods Co., No. 18-10907 (D. Mass., filed May 7, 2018). "Rather, buried on the back side of the label in the far-left corner in tiny print was the only indication that the Product did not contain its characterizing ingredient [hazelnut]," the complaint asserts. The plaintiff argues that the front-label disclosure is a legal requirement and "a material term on which a reasonable consumer would rely." The complaint points to examples of competitors' hazelnut coffees that contain front-of-package disclosures as well as similar disclosures on other varieties of coffee sold by NECC. The complaint asserts that after the plaintiff sent a notification-and-demand letter to NECC in 2017, the company added the disclosure to 15 of the…

A Massachusetts federal court has dismissed half of the claims in a lawsuit alleging Diageo-Guinness misrepresents where its Guinness Stout beer is brewed. O’Hara v. Diageo-Guinness USA Inc., No. 15-14139 (D. Mass., entered March 27, 2018). The plaintiff alleged that the “Frequently Asked Questions” page of Guinness’ website stated that “All Guinness sold in the UK, Ireland, and North America is brewed in Ireland at the historic St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin," while a disclosure on Guinness bottles sold in the United States indicate that the product is “Imported by DIAGEO – Guinness USA, Stamford, CT. Brewed and bottled by Guinness Brewing Company, New Brunswick, Canada. Product of Canada.” The court dismissed three of the six causes of action because the bottling and packaging labels were approved by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. A misrepresentation claim and two claims for violations of state consumer-protection laws will…

Utz Quality Foods Inc. has agreed to pay $1.25 million to settle a putative class action alleging that some products were labeled “natural” despite containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and synthetic ingredients. DiFrancesco v. Utz Quality Foods, Inc., 14-14744 (D. Mass., settlement agreement filed December 6, 2017). The complaint alleged the snacks contained GMO grains and synthetic ingredients such as caramel color, malic acid and citric acid. Class members will receive $2 for each qualifying purchase up to a total of $20 and residual funds will be paid to nonprofit group Consumers Union. Utz has also agreed to stop using the terms “natural” and “all natural” on labeling and advertising of the products.

A Massachusetts federal court has dismissed a putative class action against Conagra Brands that alleged the company’s Wesson cooking oil was not “100% natural” because it is extracted from grains grown from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), ruling the plaintiff had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Lee v. Conagra Brands, Inc., No. 17-11042 (D. Mass., entered October 25, 2017). Taking judicial notice of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance, the court noted that the agency has “not attempted to restrict the use of the term 'natural' except for added color, synthetic substances, and flavors." In addition, the court held that according to FDA guidance, Conagra is not required to disclose on its labels the use of GMO plants. The plaintiff alleged a single count for deceptive business practices, but the court ruled that because the label conformed to FDA guidelines, it was not “unfair…

A Massachusetts house bill proposing a one-­ and two-­cent tax per fluid ounce of sugar-­sweetened beverages (SSBs) has been withdrawn during a state budget hearing. The tax would have applied to SSBs containing more than five grams of sugar but excluded 100­-percent juice, milk substitutes, infant formula and beverages for medicinal use. Although sponsor Kay Khan (D) withdrew the proposal, a spokesperson for her office told Bloomberg that she has filed legislation to pursue the tax. See Bloomberg BNA, April 25, 2017.   Issue 632

Twenty-­three Dunkin’ Donuts franchise locations in Massachusetts have reached a tentative settlement with a plaintiff who claimed the stores served him “margarine or a butter substitute” on his bagels despite his request for butter. Polanik v. Boston Hill Donuts, LLC, No. 17-84­914 (Suffolk Cty. Superior Ct., settlement agreement filed March 24, 2017); Polanik v. CM&R Donuts, Inc., No. 17-84­915 (Suffolk Cty. Superior Ct., settlement agreement filed March 24, 2017). In both projected class actions, the plaintiff claimed he paid 25 cents each time he ordered butter and was never told a butter substitute was used instead. A Dunkin’ Donuts spokesperson told The Boston Globe in 2013 that the recommended store procedure was to serve individual whipped butter packets if requested by the customer, but otherwise employees apply “vegetable spread” to bagels or pastries. If the settlement is approved, the plaintiff will receive $500 and up to 1,400 customers may claim…

The owner of one of the largest commercial fishing businesses in the United States has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, falsifying federal records, cash smuggling and tax evasion in a case accusing him of deliberately misreporting the types of fish he caught to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). U.S. v. Rafael, No. 16­-10124 (D. Mass, plea entered March 30, 2017). Carlos Rafael, owner of Carlos Seafood, Inc. and known as the “Codfather,” will face possible forfeiture of his business assets and up to five years in prison at his June 2017 sentencing. An Internal Revenue Service (IRS) investigation apparently found that Rafael caught 800,000 pounds of fish over several years and reported it as haddock, pollock or other species with high NOAA quotas despite containing thousands of pounds of fish with lower quotas, including cod, flounder, grey sole, yellowtail and American plaice. Rafael also told IRS agents posing as…

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