A federal court has denied a bid by Pilgrim’s Pride to throw out claims it misrepresented chicken it packaged and sold as “boneless” that wound up in recalled Trader Joe’s Chili Lime Chicken Burgers for having excessive amounts of bone. Innovative Solutions Int’l Inc. v. Houlihan Trading Co., Inc., No. 22-296 (W.D. Wash., entered October 18, 2022).

The suit stems from the plaintiff’s 2021 purchase of approximately 240,000 pounds of chicken product from the Houlihan Trading Company. Pilgrim’s Pride, also a defendant, was the original producer, processor and packager of the chicken, according to the order. The chicken was labeled and included supporting documentation that it was “boneless” by industry standards. The plaintiff used the chicken to make and sell Trader Joe’s Chili Lime Chicken Burgers and sold the burgers to Trader’s Joe’s.

After the grocery chain began to receive reports of bones in the burgers in September 2021, it stopped selling them to investigate. The plaintiff found excessive and large bones in the raw chicken product during an inspection, and hired a third party to x-ray the product. The third party concluded the entire shipment of chicken was contaminated with excessive bone fragments, leading Trader Joe’s to issue a recall of approximately 100,000 pounds of raw chicken patty products. Trader Joe’s also discontinued the product.

The plaintiff filed suit against multiple defendants in the supply chain for breach of contract, breach of express and implied warranty, negligent misrepresentation, negligence and violation of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act. Pilgrim’s Pride moved to dismiss the claims against it, arguing in part that there was no privity of contract between the plaintiff and Pilgrim’s Pride.

The court disagreed, holding that the plaintiff pleaded sufficient facts to support its claims. Discussing the plaintiff’s breach of implied warranty claim, the court noted that the plaintiff alleges it regularly engaged in business with Pilgrim’s Pride and that representatives from Pilgrim’s Pride were present when the x-ray inspection occurred.

“Additionally, Plaintiff asserts Defendants (including Pilgrim’s Pride) had reason to know the purpose for which the chicken product was needed based on communications between the parties,” the court said. “Drawing reasonable inferences in favor of Plaintiff and accepting Plaintiff’s version of facts as true, it is plausible that Pilgrim’s Pride was aware of Plaintiff’s intention to use the chicken for burgers and that it was involved with the process such that Plaintiff was a third-party beneficiary.”

The court granted Pilgrim’s Pride’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s negligence claim after finding that the plaintiff failed to allege that any party other than Houlihan owes a duty to the plaintiff, but allowed the plaintiff leave to amend its complaint.

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