Champion’s request to dismiss was denied in part, and approved in part. And with what will continue, is a very interesting twist that could have other pet food manufacturers scrambling to clean up their claims.
Judge J. P. Stadtmueller has ruled that the class action lawsuit against Champion Pet Food will continue. In response to the initial complaint, Champion requested the court dismiss the case. The judge agreed some counts should be dismissed, but he ruled that other will continue.
From the court’s decision:
Plaintiff filed this class action on March 28, 2018. She alleges that she and her fellow class members purchased Defendants’ dog foods because Defendants advertise them as high-quality products which contain ingredients fit for human consumption. This latter assertion is, of course, merely an advertising ploy—people are not expected to eat the dog food.
When a pet food manufacturer makes the claim “ingredients fit for human consumption” – that should never be “an advertising ploy”. And later in the Judge’s decision, he states Champion’s claim of “ingredients fit for human consumption” will need to be verified.
What Defendants need to counter Plaintiff’s allegations is additional evidence on what constitutes “safe” concentrations of heavy metals in dog food and what is meant by “fit for human consumption.”
This brings up an interesting point, which I hope attorney’s on both sides argue. If a pet food company is claiming “ingredients fit for human consumption” – whether it be directly or indirectly through images on packaging or website – should the court require them to prove that claim?
Consumers answering that question would say “yes”. “Ingredients fit for human consumption” in a pet food is significant – considering the FDA and each State Department of Agriculture allows diseased animal material and condemned ingredients (feed grade) into pet food. The court certainly needs a better understanding that pet food is allowed by regulatory authorities to violate law and deceive consumers. Discussion/explanation of what pet ‘food’ really consists of in a courtroom could prove to be a well needed education for Judges.
And another question…if a pet food manufacturer makes the claim “ingredients fit for human consumption” – should that pet food be held to the safety levels of heavy metals and other contaminants of human food?
From the Judge’s decision:
Defendants claim that they provide “The World’s Best Petfood.” Id. at 3. Orijen is touted as “the fullest expression of our biologically appropriate and fresh regional ingredients commitment,” containing “unmatched inclusions of free-run poultry, wild-caught fish and whole nest-laid eggs—sustainably farmed or fished in our region and delivered daily, fresh or raw and preservative-free.” Id. Orijen further claims that it “features fresh, raw or dehydrated ingredients from minimally processed poultry, fish and eggs that are deemed fit for human consumption prior to inclusion in our foods.”
Defendants’ alleged misrepresentations fall on both sides of this line. Their claim of having “The World’s Best Petfood” is clearly a statement of opinion. By contrast, whether the products’ ingredients are “fit for human consumption” is a disputable fact. The same is true for the assertions that the products are “biologically appropriate,” “minimally processed,” and “fresh.” While less definite than being “fit for human consumption,” these other claims may also be proven or refuted with evidence.
Plaintiff asserts that, contrary to Defendants’ representations, the products are not of high quality. Id. Rather, they contain “excessive” and “dangerous” levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury, rendering them unfit for human consumption.
Champion Pet Food has defended their products in this lawsuit and publicly with a “White Paper”. But it might turn out that Champion’s White Paper will be further foundation against them (not necessarily in their defense).
Defendants also claim that the White Paper proves that they thought their products were safe and of good quality. Assuming the White Paper could be considered, Plaintiff’s allegations imply that it was a ruse, and that Defendants knew the conclusions stated therein were false.
The Judge concluded with this:
The thrust of Defendants’ motion is to bristle at Plaintiff’s allegations and call them slander. Defendants’ displeasure at her accusations is no basis for dismissing them, however. Although certain of Plaintiff’s claims are properly dismissed, her primary theory survives. This matter must be resolved by reference to evidence, not pleadings.
Basically, the Judge has ruled “evidence” must be provided by Champion Pet Food regarding all of their marketing claims. This will be an interesting lawsuit to follow.
To read the full decision of the Judge, click here.
To read the original complaint filed in the lawsuit, click here.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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