Let’s start the New Year off right. It’s not often we find ourselves agreeing with the Ninth Circuit, especially in the class action realm. But the Ninth Circuit recently upheld the denial of class certification to a group of dog owners alleging a pet food maker misled buyers about the alleged presence of heavy metals in its food products. See Reitman v. Champion Petfoods USA, Inc., 830 F. App’x 880 (9th Cir. 2020).
Twelve named plaintiffs purported to represent 12 state-specific classes. They alleged that defendant misrepresented the quality and content of the dog food in its label. In earlier proceedings, the proposed class was narrowed to California residents who purchased the dog food since 2014. The plaintiffs alleged that defendants failed disclose that the dog foods contain levels of arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium and/or BPA, which are known to pose health risks to humans and animals, including dogs. Plaintiffs also alleged defendants were knowingly, recklessly, and/or negligently selling certain of the contaminated foods containing pentobarbital. This allegedly rendered false any statement that the ingredients are biologically appropriate. Finally, defendants also allegedly misled consumers by marketing that their dog food is made from fresh and regional ingredients and is never outsourced. Plaintiffs asserted state-law claims on behalf of the class: (1) violations of California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”), (2) violations of California False Advertising Law (“FAL”), (3) violations of the Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”), (4) breach of express warranty; (5) breach of implied warranty of merchantability; (6) fraudulent misrepresentation; (7) fraud by omission; (8) negligent misrepresentation; and (9) unjust enrichment.
The district court found that common questions of law or fact did not predominate, finding that plaintiffs were not entitled to a presumption of reliance because plaintiffs cannot show that members of the class were exposed to the same misrepresentations. Even if there was a common general “message” on the products, numerous issues requiring individualized attention would predominate over any common questions. Even the specific phrases at issue required context that differs from bag to bag. Reitman v. Champion Petfoods USA, Inc., No. CV181736DOCJPRX, 2019 WL 7169792, at *1–2 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 30, 2019).