An Illinois federal court recently rejected packaged food company Pinnacle Foods Group LLC’s attempt to dismiss a putative class action suit against it over its line of “Wishbone E.V.O.O. Dressing- Made With Extra Virgin Olive Oil” salad dressings. The lead plaintiff allegedly purchased a bottle of the dressing in Illinois and took it across state lines to his residence in Missouri. He contends that the “E.V.O.O.” and “Made With Extra Virgin Olive Oil” labels are misleading because the dressing in fact contains mostly water and soybean oil and only a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, causing him and other class members to overpay at least 25 percent for the “cheap, fraudulent imitation made with cheap fillers and other inferior ingredients.” He sued Pinnacle for violations of Missouri and Illinois consumer protection laws and common law unjust enrichment.
Although Pinnacle tried to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims as preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and on grounds that the Missouri state consumer protection law was inapplicable because the lead plaintiff bought the salad dressing across state lines. However, the court held that it “cannot conclude as a matter of law that the representations are not deceptive” and cited broad prior applications of the Missouri consumer protection law to reject Pinnacle’s gambit. Pinnacle filed its Answer last month, over a year after the suit’s inception.
Takeaway: Many state consumer protection laws, like Missouri’s, have been held to be widely applicable and advertisers should note that purchases across state lines may not prevent liability under them.