Consumer Law

Made-in-USA claims over tea survive; “America’s Classic” could be falsifiable in context

Made-in-USA claims over tea survive; “America’s Classic” could be falsifiable in context

Banks
v. R.C. Bigelow, Inc., — F.Supp.3d —-, 2021 WL 1734779, No. 20-cv-6208 DDP
(RAOx) (C.D. Cal. May 3, 2021)

Plaintiffs
sued over tea labeled “MANUFACTURED IN THE USA 100% AMERICAN FAMILY OWNED” and
“AMERICA’S CLASSIC.” However, the tea leaves which comprise over 90% of the products
were allegedly “grown by tea plantations, and processed by tea processing
plants, located in places such as Sri Lanka and India.” Many of the “additional
flavors or spices added to some of the Products, are also not from the United
States.”  They brought the usual
California claims; the court allowed some to continue.

Defendants
first argued that no reasonable consumer would be deceived by the statements
“America’s Classic” and “Manufactured in the USA 100% Family Owned.” The
placement of “America’s Classic” at the top of the package, with a large bold
“Bigelow” between the two words could plausibly have the effect of drawing a
reasonable consumer’s attention to the statement. Further, on the back of the
packaging, styled as a stamp, are the statements “Manufactured in the USA,”
“American Family Owned” and “100%” in larger font between those two statements,
which could plausibly mean 100% manufactured in the USA and 100% family owned. Given
the allegations about the actual source of the tea and other ingredients,
plaintiffs plausibly alleged that the representations were likely to deceive
reasonable consumers.

Likewise,
at the motion to dismiss stage the court wasn’t going to review the statements
in isolation to determine whether the single statement “America’s Classic” is
nonactionable puffery. “[E]ven statements that ‘might be innocuous “puffery” or
mere statement of opinion standing alone may be actionable as an integral part
of a representation of material fact when used to emphasize and induce reliance
upon such a representation.’ ” Nor was the court going to assess whether the
claims were in fact true at this stage. UCL, FAL, and CLRA claims survived.

What
about California’s Made in the USA statute?

It
is unlawful for any person, firm, corporation, or association to sell or offer
for sale in this state any merchandise on which merchandise or on its container
there appears the words “Made in U.S.A.,” “Made in America,” “U.S.A.,” or
similar words if the merchandise or any article, unit, or part thereof, has
been entirely or substantially made, manufactured, or produced outside of the
United States.

“Made”
means artificially produced by a manufacturing process.
“[O]ne would not violate the
statute by making, manufacturing, or producing merchandise solely in the United
States even though using raw materials acquired from a foreign source.”
However, plaintiffs alleged that the raw materials were manufactured, that is,
processed, outside the US, creating a fact question. And the law plainly
covered both “made” and “manufactured” claims.

The
package had a side panel statement in small font: “Blended and Packaged in the
U.S.A.” That wasn’t sufficient to grant a motion to dismiss.

However,
following Sonner, equitable claims under the UCL, FAL, and unjust
enrichment were dismissed without leave to amend because plaintiffs didn’t
allege that they lacked legal remedies.

 

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