ORLANDO -- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is on the verge of providing a concrete resolution to the contrasting opinions of district courts regarding certification and classification of dietary supplements and the lawsuits related to them.

Three cases are awaiting decisions from the Ninth Circuit Court following differing decisions from federal courts on matters of approximately the same nature. The appellate court is set to determine how stringent the guidelines would be especially in light of the several legal battles in California linked to dietary supplements. The three cases are Briseno v. ConAgra Foods Inc; Jones v. ConAgra Foods, Inc; and Brazil v. Dole Packaged Foods LLC.

In September, the appellate court began hearing the oral arguments for Briseno v. ConAgra Foods Inc. and Brazil v. Dole Packaged Foods LLC. Both cases carry striking similarities.

In the two cases, the plaintiffs filed for putative class action lawsuits alleging that the defendants breached a number of statutory and common-law causes of action. To be specific, the petitioners claimed that they bought products marketed by the defendants as “All Natural” or “100% Natural.”

According to the plaintiffs of the case against Dole, these labels are misleading since the items contained ascorbic acid or Vitamin C, as well as citric acid. However, the company pointed out that both additives are natural byproducts of juices.

Meanwhile, the claims of Briseno attacked the “100% Natural” label of ConAgra Foods Inc. In their court documents, the plaintiffs alleged that the tag was misleading, since genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are found in the Wesson Oil sold by the company.

In their decisions, the Ninth Circuit Court is expected to focus on two concrete concerns. The first one would be “ascertainability” or defining an appropriate class of plaintiffs. The second concern would be the propriety related to the awarding of damages to all members of the class in the class-action cases.

Of the states in the nation, California has been identified as one of those that pay greater attention to consumer rights. The state also has become a hotpot for class-action lawsuits filed by consumers against suppliers. Most of the time, these cases are based on the labels and claims attached to the dietary supplements sold and released in the California market.

One of the most widely argued upon concern in these lawsuits is the “ascertainability” factor. In determining who could be qualified as members of a certain class, it is required that a piece of evidence or proof must be presented before the courts. However, most consumers no longer hold on to the receipts of their purchases, especially those that did not cost too much.

Since some plaintiffs often fail to produce any proof of purchase, it becomes tricky for the courts to determine whether or not they are parts of a certain class. In response, these consumers argue that keeping all receipts under lock and key is not a realistic situation for people. Moreover, this requirement would mean that class action lawsuits for low-priced or inexpensive products or purchases become almost impossible to win.

However, consumers are concerned that this would signify potentially significant fees to the companies. If no proof of purchase of any kind would be required from the plaintiffs, then the defendants would be in danger of facing massive class action lawsuits. With fewer requirements for these kinds of class actions cases to push through, companies could fall victims to immediate bankruptcy courtesy of court fees and damages.  

The Ninth Circuit Court panel reviewing these cases includes judges William A. Fletcher, Morgan Christen and Michelle Taryn Friedland.

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