Class Action and Product Insights for Your Business
January 12, 2016 - False Advertising, Class Certification, Food Misbranding

Stand Down! Court Rejects Yakult Yogurt False Advertising Class for Lack of Standing

On January 5, 2016, in Torrent v. Yakult U.S.A., Inc., U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney denied the plaintiff’s motion to certify a class of Yakult yogurt consumers who were allegedly misled by Yakult’s packaging and advertising claims.  The Court found that the sole named plaintiff lacked Article III standing to seek injunctive relief on behalf of the putative class because he failed to allege or offer evidence of a sufficient likelihood of future harm.  This decision is notable for its refusal to carve out an exception to Article III requirements in favor of state consumer protection laws.

The named plaintiff, Nicolas Torrent, alleged that Yakult violated California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) by deceptively claiming that its probiotic beverages containing the Lactobacillus casei Shirota microorganism help balance the digestive system and maintain overall health.  The plaintiff sought to certify a class of all persons or entities who purchased Yakult while in the state of California since January 2011, and sought only declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of himself and the putative class.  The plaintiff claimed that he purchased Yakult products multiple times, and “but for” Yakult’s misrepresentations about the health benefits of its products, he would not have done so.  He did not allege that he intended to buy Yakult in the future, and he did not seek restitution or money damages.

The Court first considered the threshold question of whether the plaintiff had standing to bring a UCL claim for injunctive relief under Article III of the Constitution.  Judge Carney noted that Article III requires that a plaintiff seeking injunctive relief present evidence that there is a “sufficient likelihood” that he or she “will be wronged in a similar way in the future.”  Past exposure to illegal conduct does not, by itself, show a present case or controversy if there are no continuing, present adverse effects.

The Court acknowledged the split within the Ninth Circuit regarding whether the Article III standing requirement for injunctive relief applies in the consumer protection context, noting that some courts have held that a plaintiff in an UCL false advertising case retains standing to pursue injunctive relief so long as the defendant continues to deceptively market and sell the products at issue.  However, the Court rejected this approach, finding “more persuasive the courts that have insisted that it is improper to carve out an exception to Article III’s standing requirements to further the purpose of California consumer protection laws.”  The Court agreed with those cases, concluding that “Article III’s standing requirements take precedence over enforcement of state consumer protection laws,” and “[b]ecause Torrent has not even alleged that he intends to buy Yakult in the future, let alone submitted evidence to that effect,” he had no standing to pursue injunctive relief.

Plaintiff’s lack of standing to pursue injunctive relief doomed his class certification motion:

“Owing to his lack of standing to pursue injunctive relief,” the plaintiff “failed to provide sound rationale for class certification under either [Rule 23] (b)(1)(A) or (b)(2).”