Court Tosses Claims that Formula’s ‘Milk-based’ Labeling Misled Consumers
A federal court in California has largely granted Mead Johnson & Company’s bid to throw out a proposed class action alleging the company misled consumers about just how much milk was in its Enfamil baby formulas. Martinez v. Mead Johnson & Co., LLC, No. 22-0213 (C.D. Cal., entered October 22, 2022). The court granted the company’s motion to dismiss on all but one of the plaintiff’s claims, her claim for unjust enrichment and restitution, and allowed the plaintiff to file an amended complaint.
The plaintiff alleged in her February 2022 complaint that Mead Johnson engaged in misleading advertising by calling its Enfamil powdered infant products “Milk-based” when milk is one of the ingredients, not the primary ingredient by weight. The plaintiff alleged that at the time of purchase, she understood that phrasing to mean milk was the primary ingredient, but later learned the primary ingredient in the product was corn syrup solids.
Discussing the plaintiff’s California state law claims, the court said the plaintiff’s interpretation of the label “may very well be sincere, but it is only one person’s rather narrow interpretation.”
“Martinez otherwise alleges no factual support for why a reasonable consumer would narrowly interpret a something based label to mean that that something must contribute the most to the product’s weight, relative to any other ingredient,” the court said.
The court said consumers could easily turn the bottle around and read the ingredient label, where they could see milk is an ingredient, but not the first one listed.
“And while reasonable consumers are not ‘expected to look beyond misleading representations on the front of the box,’ Martinez has not done enough to allege that calling a product ‘Milk-based’ is, in fact, deceptive when milk is patently one of the named ingredients,” the court added.
In order for the plaintiff to prevail on her claims, the court said she would need to plausibly allege why the ingredient label fails to provide reasonable consumers with enough information to clarify any ambiguity around the phrase “Milk-based.”
The court concluded the plaintiff failed to state a claim, granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss with leave to amend. The court similarly dismissed the plaintiff’s claims of breach of express and implied warranties, intentional and negligent misrepresentation.