Preemption is familiar battleground for class-action litigants prosecuting or defending product mislabeling claims concerning the labels of federally regulated products. Plaintiffs asserting state law mislabeling claims must contend with the fact that federal laws often expressly preempt state law claims out of a desire to prevent states from imposing requirements different from or stricter than those found in federal statutes or regulations.
Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals analyzed the issue of federal preemption in a case involving the labeling of poultry products. In the case of Cohen v. ConAgra Brands, the plaintiff filed a putative class-action lawsuit alleging that that ConAgra’s “natural” and “preservative-free” claims on its frozen chicken product labels and website advertising were false and misleading under California state law.
In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that ConAgra had been using synthetic ingredients in its products, despite claims to the contrary on its labels and website. This practice, the complaint alleged, ran afoul of California state law. A federal district court judge dismissed the case, holding that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which preempts state law claims challenging the Department of Agriculture’s application of federal labeling standards for poultry products. Specifically, the court held that the DOA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service had approved the very statements being challenged on ConAgra’s poultry labels and advertising. The plaintiff appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit agreed with ConAgra that if the “evidence shows that ConAgra’s label was approved by [the Food Safety and Inspection Service], then plaintiff’s claims are preempted.” However, the Court noted that the record lacked any evidence regarding whether the ConAgra label at issue was actually reviewed and approved by the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Consequently, it remanded the claim for further development of the record on this point. Continue reading ›