A federal court judge has laid out a new plan to deal with a class action against the makers of a coffee product.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel at the Southern District of Illinois has decided only one jury will hear evidence of claims made by plaintiffs against Sturm Foods and its parent company, Treehouse Foods.
One of the named lead plaintiffs is Linda Suchanek of Fairview Heights, who claims the companies made misleading claims about cartridges for their Keurig coffee maker, advertised as "freshly brewed" but in reality contained instant brew, according to the complaint.
Suchanek's son-in-law, Edwardsville asbestos attorney Randy Gori, is lead counsel in the case.
"Instant coffee is not freshly brewed coffee but rather dehydrated soluble powder that can be mixed with water to yield a coffee-like beverage," the suit states. The companies are accused of consumer fraud.
Plaintiffs from Alabama, California, Illinois New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina, filed suit under various state and federal laws. The Southern District certified the multi-state action.
Initially, the court crafted a plan that would have divided the plaintiffs into two groups to account for two versions of the package, and further that it would be broken up into two depending on the state where the plaintiff resides.
The defendants argued that the multi-state subclass "would intermingle evidence from different states and blur the distinctions between the different statutes." They asked to judge to create a separate subclass for each state.
"The court has no issue breaking apart the proposed multi-state subclass, to avoid the potential issues raised by defendants," Rosenstengel wrote.
"Thus, Plaintiffs will be organized into nine different subclasses under each version of the package."
The judge also walked back on the original intention to use two juries, with the second deciding loss, cause, and damages for the plaintiffs from Tennessee and South Carolina, which have markedly different state laws than the others.
"To avoid the possibility of two juries determining the same or similar issues, however, the Court believes one jury should hear the entirety of the evidence, in a single trial," Rosenstengel stated.
The class also is represented by David Michael Rosenberg-Wohl of Hershenson Rosenberg-Wohl in San Francisco, Peter H. Burke of Burke Harvey LLC in Birmingham, Ala., Joseph Allen Schreiber of Schreiber Law Firm in Birmingham, B.J. Wade of Skouteris & Magee in Memphis, Michael H. Maizes of Maizes & Maizes in Bronx, N.Y., James Steven Ward of Ward & Wilson in Birmingham, John V. Wertheim of Jones, Snead, Wertheim & Wentworth in Santa Fe, N.M., and others.
Sturm Foods and Treehouse Foods are represented by John F. Zabriskie and other attorneys at Foley & Lardner in Chicago, Patrick Walker of Farris Bobango Branan of Memphis and Rebecca R. Hanson of Reed Smith in Chicago.