District Court says class action suit over pancake mix ingredients can proceed

By Pam Wright | Apr 27, 2017


Jack and Jason's Pancakes (www.jackandjasons.com) [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

EAST ST. LOUIS — A U.S. District Court has denied a request by Hodgson Mill Inc. to dismiss a lawsuit filed by an Illinois woman alleging that the grain and baking products company falsely advertised its products as having all-natural ingredients.

Shannah Burton filed the original complaint on behalf of herself and others with the St. Clair County Circuit Court in February 2016, alleging that the company's Hodgson Mill buckwheat pancake mix that she purchased, which claimed to contain all-natural ingredients, misled her and others, thus violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

The action was later removed to federal court. Hodgson Mill made the request in light of the number of class members, which could easily exceed 100 persons, and because the amount sought by the plaintiff exceeds $5 million. Burton's lawyers did not contest the motion.

According to the complaint, Burton claims the product she purchased that was labeled “all natural" contained the synthetic ingredient monocalcium phosphate, among other non-natural ingredients. She further noted that had she known the mix was not all-natural as she assumed by the labeling, she wouldn’t have purchased the mix. 

The defendant has moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing, among other things, that Burton could not sue for harm from products she does not plan to buy from the company in the future, as Burton was seeking injunctive relief. The count seeking injunctive relief was, in fact, the only one of 12 arguments to dismiss that was granted by the court.

The defendant also argues that the “plaintiff’s claims fail because no reasonable consumer would have been deceived by the product packaging bearing the 'all natural' labeling” and that "the presence of a complete ingredients list on the packaging defeats any claim of labeling misrepresentation.” 

The defendant further argues that the company’s product guarantee, which offers a refund if a customer is not satisfied, defeats Burton’s claim, and that the case should be dismissed until the Food and Drug Administration announces a uniform definition of the term “all natural.”

In response, Burton’s attorneys said they would file an amended complaint naming each class member, along with the particular product purchased by each individual.

On the other grounds for dismissal cited by the defendant, District Court Judge Michael J. Reagan ruled that the case should proceed, noting that many of the issues cited by the defendant should proceed to a jury trial.

"This court finds that the crux of this issue is a reasonable person’s interpretation of the various labels and representations on a given product — thus, this question is best left for the jury,” Reagan wrote in his April 6 ruling.

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Hodgson Mill Inc. St. Clair County Circuit Court U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois East St. Louis

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