Lovers of chocolate-covered raisins might one day get some cash back for satisfying their sweet tooth. Californian Sandy Hafer recently filed a $5 million class-action lawsuit against Nestlé alleging that approximately 40 percent of a box of Raisinets she bought was nothing but air.

Hafer, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of thousands of people, argues that by underfilling the box, the company violated the California civil code. She is alleging common law fraud, breach of contract, and negligent misrepresentation, among other accusations.

Tort reform advocates in California say this is the latest in a series of “ridiculous” lawsuits that have nothing to do with the body of law concerning deceptive practices and a lot to do with lawyers looking to make out like bandits.

Consumer advocates, on the other hand, claim suits like these shine a light on an important area of law in which companies engage in deceptive practices to boost profits and muscle out smaller competitors. It’s about slack-fill, and the plaintiff might have a case, Consumerist magazine says.

John Doherty, president of the Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC), an industry-backed group that advocates lawsuit reform, sees little merit in the Raisinets case.

“There is a body of law around deceptive advertising practices, but looking at the facts of this case, this one is ridiculous,” Doherty told the Northern California Record. “You can tell what is in there, and it says it on the box, yet the company might end up spending hundreds of thousands defending the suit."

The Food and Drug Administration regulates this area of law, including slack-fill. The FDA allows some slack-fill for functional purposes, such as if there is a chance a product will get crushed or otherwise damaged en route to the store, or if there is unavoidable settling. But non-functional slack fill is generally not allowed.

Hafer said she bought the box of Dark Chocolate Raisinets from Ralphs in the Central District of California last year. Relying on the size and shape of the box packaging, she believed it would be full of of the candy, according to the federal court complaint.

“Ms. Hafer would not have purchased the Product or would have paid significantly less for the Product had she known that the package was only approximately 60% full of Raisinets,” the complaint says. She therefore “suffered injury in fact and lost money as a result of Defendant’s misleading, false, unfair, and fraudulent practices.”

Hafer argues that there is no functional reason for the space, and that other Raisinet products are in tight-fitting bags. She says the oversized boxes are “inconsistent” with the manufacturing and packaging practices for Raisinets.

In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, a spokeswoman for Nestlé said the lawsuit has no merit, and that all the company’s products comply with government regulations. Consumers are given the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions, the spokeswoman said.

A similar class-action case underway in federal court in Minnesota is being watched closely. In it, Watkins, a Minnesota spice maker, alleges that McCormick, a larger spice manufacturer, reduced the amount of black pepper in its tin without changing the size of the tin. While consumers might not have noticed, the smaller company says it affects its bottom line and its attempt to carve out a market share. A federal judge ruled that the case has merit.

John Doherty, of the CJAC, said that while there is a body of law on marketing practices the Raisinets case “flies in the face of reason and common sense.” He said the lawyers want to upset settled law and open the way for more lawsuits.

“This is a case revealing we have a very litigious society, and there is a lot of people unhappy, and it is a very easy to find a class-action lawyer,” he said.

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