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Ruling Allows Gerber False Advertising Suit to Crawl Onward

For plaintiffs concerned that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ June 19, 2015 decision in Brown v. GNC Corp. signaled the muscling in of a stricter new pleading standard for false advertising class actions nationwide, a recent ruling out of the Central District of California likely acted as a pacifier. On July 14, 2015, U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt of the Central District of California held in Zakaria v. Gerber Products Co. that plaintiff’s putative class action against Gerber over the advertising of baby food could proceed despite the Fourth Circuit’s recent GNC decision.

In Brown v. GNC Corp., plaintiffs alleged that various health claims made on defendant’s product packaging were false because “the vast weight of competent and reliable scientific evidence” did not support these claims. The Fourth Circuit held that this wasn’t enough to plead falsity. Rather, to adequately plead that a claim was literally false, a plaintiff must allege that, “all reasonable experts in the field agree that the representations are false” to survive a motion to dismiss. But just as potential defendants might have begun to feel swaddled in this new found protection, Judge Kronstadt allowed the Zakaria case to proceed, holding that, at least in California, plaintiffs do not have to reach this new high pleading bar.

The Zakaria plaintiff alleged that Gerber’s claim that its Good Start® Gentle baby food helps prevent babies from developing allergies was both false and misleading. Judge Kronstadt denied Gerber’s motion to reconsider the court’s prior decision denying Gerber’s motion to dismiss the complaint, rejecting Gerber’s invocation of GNC as representing a “significant, intervening change of law.”

Judge Kronstadt noted that the Fourth Circuit’s ruling was not binding authority in the Ninth Circuit and found it unpersuasive for three primary reasons. First, the GNC analysis was concerned with literally false claims, but the claims against Gerber were brought under California law, which permits a false advertising claim to be stated for ads that are misleading but true, as well as those that are literally false. Judge Kronstadt noted that the Fourth Circuit engaged in little analysis of California law in GNC. Second, issues of fact about whether Gerber’s claim was in fact false (and not just about whether all experts agree that the claim was false) were raised by the pleadings, which necessitated a trial. And third, GNC “left open the possibility that a false advertising claim could be brought where a manufacturer made representations that implied greater support for its health claims than were present.” Here plaintiff alleged that Gerber misrepresented that the FDA endorsed the health claims at issue.

© 2018 Proskauer Rose LLP.

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About this Author

Alexander Kaplan, Proskauer law firm, Litigation Attorney, New york office, copyright, trademark, advertising, trade secrets law
Associate

Alexander Kaplan is a partner in the Litigation Department. Alex is a commercial litigator and trial lawyer with broad expertise in intellectual property litigation and counseling. He has substantial experience in the fields of copyright, trademark, advertising and trade secrets law, representing clients in a wide array of fields and industries.

Copyright/Entertainment

In copyright and related entertainment matters, Alex has represented various major record labels, music publishing companies and recording artists, as well as other media and entertainment...

212-969-3671
Jennifer Yang, Litigation Law, Proskauer Law Firm
Associate

Jennifer Yang is an Associate in the Litigation Department, resident in the New York office.

212-969-3394
James Unger, Law Clerk, Proskauer Rose Law Firm
Law Clerk

James Unger is a law clerk in the Litigation Department.

212.969.3271