Federal judge dismisses some claims in tuna case against Trader Joe's

By Sara McCleary | Oct 13, 2017

LOS ANGELES – A federal court on Oct. 3 dismissed some parts of a class action against food giant Trader Joe’s while allowing most of the plaintiffs’ complaints to survive the motion to dismiss.

The plaintiffs, Sarah Magier and Atzimba Reyes, filed their complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, seeking to represent New Yorkers and Californians, respectively, who had purchased cans of Trader Joe’s tuna. They allege in their second amended complaint that the company underfills its cans and claim breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty of merchantability, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation and fraud. 

Trader Joe’s filed a motion to dismiss, arguing implied pre-emption. Because the plaintiffs' amended claims are based on New York laws but depend on a federal regulation – pressed weight standard, a complicated measure of the weight of canned tuna – the court granted Trader Joe’s motion to dismiss Magier’s claims against it based on New York law.

The court, however, declined to apply the primary jurisdiction doctrine, as Trader Joe’s had argued for. The defendant had asked that the court stay the case pending a Food & Drug Administration (FDA) review of the pressed weight standard, but Judge Otis D. Wright wrote in the court’s opinion, “While Congress has placed food regulation in the hands of the FDA, the core issue is ‘whether a reasonable consumer would be misled by [Trader Joe’s] marketing, which the district courts have reasonably concluded they are competent to address.’”

Judge Otis D. Wright   Los Angeles Sentinel

Trader Joe’s motion to dismiss Reyes' claims under the unfair competition law (UCL) also failed, with the court determining that the plaintiff's claim that she lost money or property as a result of the violations are sufficient to state a claim.

Similarly, the court denied Trader Joe’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims of fraud and violation of the UCL, Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and False Advertising Law (FAL) under California law. 

“Plaintiffs sufficiently set forth the who, what, when, where, and how of Trader Joe’s allegedly fraudulent conduct,” Wright wrote.

While the plaintiffs' claims of breach of express warranty by Trader Joe’s were dismissed by the court without leave to amend, the court denied the company’s motion to dismiss the claims of breach of implied warranty of merchantability, as well as the claims of unjust enrichment.

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