Standing to Assert Injunctive Relief is Not in the Tea Leaves, California Federal Court Says
In Lanovaz v. Twinings North America, Inc., Judge Whyte of the Northern District of California recently decided that the plaintiff lacked standing to pursue injunctive relief, and granted summary judgment for defendant Twinings. The class action alleged that Twinings tea products were misbranded under California law as “natural source[s] of antioxidants.”
In an earlier decision, the court had certified a Rule 23(b)(2) class for injunctive relief, although it had denied class certification for a damages class because the plaintiff had not presented a sufficient damages model to calculate the price “premium” attributable to the allegedly misleading labels. Twinings then filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that plaintiff lacked standing to pursue injunctive relief for three reasons: (1) Twinings had stopped using statements about antioxidants on its labels; (2) the plaintiff did not intend to purchase Twinings products in the future; and (3) the plaintiff could not be deceived in the future by the antioxidants claim now that she was “better informed” about the claim.
The court noted that the named plaintiff in a class action must have standing to seek injunctive relief in order to represent a class seeking such relief. It evaluated each of Twinings’ arguments in turn. First, the court agreed with Twinings that because the challenged labels had been discontinued, the plaintiff lacked standing to pursue injunctive relief. The court stated that it was “unaware” of any authority finding standing to pursue injunctive relief where there was no evidence that the challenged conduct was likely to continue.
Second, the court also agreed with Twinings (albeit with greater reluctance) that plaintiff lacked standing because she did not plausibly allege that she intended to purchase the Twinings tea products again. In so doing, the court reversed its previous position that to deny plaintiff standing because she did not intend to purchase Twinings products again would “eviscerate the intent of the California legislature” by “effectively bar[ring] any consumer who avoids the offending product from seeking injunctive relief.” The court’s more recent decision adopts the majority view in the Northern District of California that a plaintiff must have future intent to purchase the challenged product in order to have standing to seek injunctive relief. The court also noted that it was reaching the same conclusion that was recently reached in two near-identical Northern District of California lawsuits concerning Bigelow’s tea products, brought by the same class counsel.
As for Twinings’ third standing argument – that plaintiff lacked standing because she could not be misled again by the same labels – the court recognized a split in Northern District of California authority. In some cases, “future deception” standing arguments had been successful in surviving a dispositive motion and in others they had not. The court did not decide the issue because Twinings’ first two standing arguments had already shown that the plaintiff lacked standing to pursue an injunction. The court therefore granted summary judgment for Twinings.