An Illinois federal judge recently certified a class of consumers who allege that Sturm Foods and its parent company Treehouse Foods Inc. marketed their Grove Square Coffee pods for use in Keurig Inc. brewers—and designed them to mimic Keurig’s “K-Cups” that yield fresh coffee—but hid the fact that they were 95% instant coffee by using the terms “soluble and microground” on the package labels. Suchanek et al. v. Sturm Foods Inc. et al., No. 3:11-cv-00565. This class includes consumers who bought Grove Square Coffee products in Alabama, California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.
This decision comes after the previously assigned district court judge (Judge G. Patrick Murphy (Ret.)) sided with Strum on class certification and summary judgment and dismissed the suit. Judge Murphy held that the plaintiffs failed to show that every class member has been harmed by Sturm’s alleged mislabeling or deception. He noted that the plaintiffs may have been motivated to buy Grove Square Coffee because of its price point, the desire to try new things, or a host of other factors. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit disagreed, finding that factual disputes about the packaging called for a trial rather than summary judgment. In addition, the Seventh Circuit held that the class certification commonality requirement was satisfied because the question of whether the packaging was likely to mislead a reasonable consumer applied to every class member.
On remand, the case was re-assigned to Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel who granted the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. Judge Rosenstengel found that commonality and typicality were met because plaintiffs claimed that they would not have purchased Grove Square Coffee pods, or paid as much as they did, but for the misleading packaging. She also ruled that the plaintiffs presented a viable damages model based on a full-refund theory. Specifically, Judge Rosenstengel noted that there was “plenty of evidence in the record suggesting that consumers would not have purchased GSC but for its deceptive labeling that created and/or failed to correct the misimpression that GSC was premium, ground coffee.”
Moreover, even though Sturm had modified the language on the labels during the class period to say “instant and microground,” Judge Rosenstengel found that the class properly included consumers who purchased after the label change because the plaintiffs provided evidence showing that consumers continued to complain about being misled after the change took place.