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From Products Liability Law Daily, January 31, 2014

Material differences among state consumer protection laws fatal to certification of proposed nationwide class of pet treat purchasers

By Leah S. Poniatowski, J.D.

Material differences among state consumer protection laws precluded a finding of common questions of law and, thus, prohibited certification of a proposed nationwide class of pet treat purchasers, a federal district court in California ruled. Additionally, a nationwide class action could not be superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy in light of the state law differences (Holt v. Globalinx Pet LLC, January 30, 2014, Carter, D.).

Background. Jennifer Holt had purchased a three-pound bag of Kingdom Pets chicken jerky dog treats at a Costco in Austin, Texas. She asserted that she chose the Kingdom Pets brand based on the product’s representations of the food’s quality and ingredients. For several months, she gave her dog the treats a few times a week. She brought her dog to the veterinarian and after repeated visits in two days, learned that the blood tests showed acute kidney failure. The dog was euthanized after antibiotic treatment failed and it suffered a seizure.

The dog treats’ packaging claimed that the food was “made from ‘100% Natural Ingredients’ [salt, vegetable glycerin, and chicken] that were ‘delicious’ and had a ‘taste dogs love.’ . . . [and were] ‘wholesome and nutritious.’” The treat manufacturer also attested on its website to “Kingdom Pets 100% safety record . . . [with] not one sample [having] tested positive for known contaminants.” However, in past years, the FDA has warned about dog treats containing chicken jerky from China. Kingdom Pets chicken jerky products contained chicken jerky from China. Holt alleged that the manufacturer intended to conceal information concerning the unwholesomeness of its product for the purpose of maintaining or increasing its product’s sales. Holt included strict products liability claims among the eight she filed against Globalinx Pet LLC and Globalinx Corporation (collectively, “the manufacturer”). She filed an additional motion for class certification of five nationwide classes.

Class certification. The court concluded that the proposed classes do not meet the predominance and superiority requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) because the manufacturer showed that the relevant consumer protection laws are “materially different” across different jurisdictions covered by the proposed nationwide classes. In order for a class action to be certified under Rule 23(b)(3), the class representatives must show (1) the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members; and (2) that a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.

Predominance. The court was convinced by the manufacturer’s catalogue of a series of material differences between the consumer protection laws of several states and those of California, and, crucially, the court had performed a case-specific conflict of law analysis in a prior ruling to determine that a Texas plaintiff would be subject to materially different laws than a California plaintiff in this action. Accordingly, common questions of law do not predominate over the questions affecting the individual class members under the federal rule.

Superiority. Although class treatment should be favored in a consumer fraud claim with the small size of each class member’s claim at issue as the one at bar, because of the discrepancies between state laws, the court could not consider the proposed nationwide classes a superior method for the fair and efficient adjudication of the present controversy.

Therefore, Holt’s motion for class certification was denied.

The case number is SA CV 13-0041 DOC (JPRx).

Attorneys: Bevin Allen Pike (Khorrami Boucher Sumner Sanguinetti LLP) for Jennifer Holt, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated. Robert Lennart Green (Green and Hall APC) for Globalinx Pet LLC doing business as Kingdom Pets.

Companies: Globalinx Pet LLC doing business as Kingdom Pets

MainStory: TopStory CourtDecisions ClassActLitigationNews FoodBeveragesNews CaliforniaNews

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