Food for Thought: Liability-Only Class Certification Denied for Claims That “No Sugar Added” Juice Labels Misled Consumers Into Thinking the Juice Had Fewer Calories

Plaintiff’s putative class action alleged that defendant Mott’s violated FDA regulations and California’s Sherman Law and Unfair Competition Law when it labeled and sold its 100 percent apple juice with the label “No Sugar Added,” which plaintiff claimed misled consumers into thinking the juice had fewer calories than its competitors. For some reason, Plaintiff sought issue-specific class certification on liability only pursuant to Rule 23(c)(4). The district court denied plaintiff’s motion for class certification after allowing plaintiff to provide supplemental briefing on how the claims would proceed if liability was determined on a class-wide basis. The circuit court affirmed.

In his motion for class certification, plaintiff claimed he could satisfy the requirements for an injunction class under Rule 23(b)(2) or a damages class under Rule 23(b)(3). Instead, and apparently without sufficient justification, plaintiff sought certification under Rule 23(c)(4) which provides that a class may be brought with respect to particular issues “when appropriate.” The court held that “[c]ertification of an issues class under Rule 23(c)(4) is ‘appropriate’ only if it ‘materially advances the disposition of the litigation as a whole.’”

Unconvinced that issues-only certification on liability would materially advance the disposition of the entire case based on the initial brief, the district court provided plaintiff with an opportunity to submit supplemental briefing. The court asked plaintiff to specify how damages would be resolved after liability under his proposed certification plan. Upon review of the supplemental briefing, the court found plaintiff failed to articulate sufficient grounds for proceeding with certification on liability only. Accordingly, the court denied certification of the purported class, noting “a district court is not bound to certify a liability class merely because it is permissible to do so.”

The circuit court affirmed the district court’s denial of class certification, finding there was no abuse of discretion in denying the motion.