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ConAgra Class Certification Upheld in Ninth Circuit

When a group of people have a similar grievance relating to a product, consumer class actions are an incredible legal tool to recover losses. As a class, consumers have more leverage to hold companies accountable for their products, especially in instances where their individual losses are not enough to justify proceeding on their own. Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 23") outlines the legal requirements to form a class. Class certification requires having a group that is numerous enough so that individual litigation is impractical, the group must have common questions of law or fact, typical claims, and the representative party must be able to fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

On January 3, 2017, the Ninth Circuit upheld class certification in a case against ConAgra Foods, Inc. ("ConAgra"). The class alleged ConAgra misled consumers with its Wesson cooking oil's "all natural" label. Although customers expected the oil to be "100 percent natural," they found it was actually made from bioengineered ingredients.

ConAgra appealed the certification, which held that class members need only show they purchased Wesson cooking oil during the class period, instead arguing Plaintiff Robert Briseno must put forth an "administratively feasible" ascertainment plan. However, Ninth Circuit Judge Michelle Friedland, writing for the panel, found that Rule 23 does not mention "administrative feasibility" as a requirement for certification and had Congress intended to include this as a criteria, it would have done so.

The appeal was expected to clarify the legal standard for class actions. ConAgra argued that allowing classes to be certified, as the District Court had, would lower the bar for class certification, while Briseno believed that decertifying the class would make class certification harder than Rule 23 required. Overall, Judge Friedland regarded her interpretation as being in line with current standards based on previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

The legal team at SFMS has significant experience litigating class action matters. If you have any questions regarding this subject or this posting, please contact Nick Lussier (nlussier@sfmslaw.com) or Chiharu Sekino (csekino@sfmslaw.com). We can also be reached toll-free at (866) 540-5505.

Shepherd, Finkelman, Miller & Shah, LLP is a law firm with offices in California, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. SFMS is an active member of Integrated Advisory Group (www.iaginternational.org), which provides us with the ability to provide our clients with access to excellent legal and accounting resources throughout the globe. For more information about our firm, please visit us at www.sfmslaw.com.

SOURCES

Bayles, Cara. "9th Circ. Upholds Cert. In ConAgra's GMO False Label Row," Law360. Last modified on January 3, 2017.

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