The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a putative class action alleging Dunkin’ Brands Inc. misled consumers about the cuts of meat in its “Angus” line of products. Chen v. Dunkin’ Brands Inc., No. 18-3087 (2nd Cir., entered March 31, 2020). The plaintiffs argued that Dunkin marketed its products as containing “Angus Steak” despite containing ground beef patties rather than “an ‘intact’ piece of meat.” The appeals court first affirmed the dismissal of several plaintiffs on jurisdictional grounds before considering the merits of the argument.

The complaint “identified three Dunkin Donuts television advertisements, providing descriptions along with video links, and alleged that the advertisements were deceptive in their use of the word ‘steak,’” the court noted. “All three advertisements, however, conclude with multiple zoomed-in images that clearly depict the ‘steak’ in the Products as a beef patty.” The court turned to Merriam-Webster to determine that “while the word ‘steak’ can refer to ‘a slice of meat,’ it is also defined as ‘ground beef prepared for cooking or for serving in the manner of steak” and noted that chopped steak, hamburger steak and Salisbury steak are examples of the latter definition.

“[I]t is true that literally accurate statements can still be misleading,” the court noted, but “context is crucial.” Dunkin’s Angus products “are marketed as grab-and-go products that can be consumed in hand, without the need for a fork and knife,” the court concluded. “A reasonable consumer purchasing one of the Products from Dunkin Donuts in that context would not be misled into thinking she was purchasing an ‘unadulterated piece of meat.’”

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For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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