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
approximately 40 percent of a box of Raisinets she bought was nothing but air.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.