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Lauren Coyle, On Behalf of Herself and All Others Similarly Situated v. Hornell Brewing Co.

May 26, 2011

LAUREN COYLE, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HORNELL BREWING CO., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle

OPINION

SIMANDLE, District Judge:

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the motion for class certification of Plaintiff Lauren Coyle. [Docket Item 122].

Plaintiff alleges that she was misled by labels on bottles of Defendants' Arizona brand beverages touting "All Natural" ingredients and thereby induced into buying bottles of Arizona beverages that contained High Fructose Corn Syrup ("HFCS"), which she claims is not "natural". Plaintiff is currently before the Court seeking to certify, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2), a class of consumers who purchased similarly labeled Arizona beverages that contained HFCS, seeking only declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiff proposes to certify her New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act ("NJCFA") claim on behalf of:

All persons who, within the state of New Jersey from April 21, 2002 to present, purchased for personal consumption and not for resale or assignment, an Arizona brand beverage marketed, advertised, and promoted as "All Natural," "100% Natural," or "100% All Natural" but that contained high fructose corn syrup.

Plaintiff's putative class would seek to enjoin Defendants from claiming that their products containing HFCS are "all natural."

For the reasons set forth in detail below, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion for class certification because Plaintiff cannot satisfy the adequacy requirement of Rule 23(a)(4).

II. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The factual and procedural record in this case is confused on at least one key question: whether Plaintiff's qualifying purchase occurred before or after she concluded that Arizona beverages containing HFCS were not natural as labeled. As this question has bearing on the Court's assessment of Ms. Coyle's (and her attorneys') adequacy to represent a 23(b)(2) class, the Court will detail the facts in the record on this point before turning to the analysis of the Rule 23 factors below.

Plaintiff's original Complaint in this action, and her subsequent Amended Complaint [Docket Item 72] and Second Amended Complaint [Docket Item 135], allege that on March 30, 2008, Ms. Coyle purchased a bottle of Arizona "Rx Stress" iced tea. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 42.) All three Complaints also allege, generally, that Plaintiff had been purchasing other Arizona products on "numerous other occasions" for the previous six years. (Id. ¶ 43.) Plaintiff alleges that on each of these occasions, she purchased the product "because she thought, based upon Defendants' representations, that the beverages were all natural." (Id. ¶ 46.) The only purchase of Arizona products for which Ms. Coyle has supplied a date and place of purchase was the March 30, 2008 event.

During the course of discovery of this case, Plaintiff produced for Defendants a retainer agreement she signed in anticipation of this lawsuit. (Donovan Decl. Ex. C.) In the agreement, Michael Halbfish, Esq., one of Ms. Coyle's current attorneys in this litigation, agreed to represent Ms. Coyle in an anticipated class action seeking damages and injunctive relief against the Defendants in this matter for their deceptive practices in marketing beverages containing HFCS as "all natural." (Id. ¶ 1.2.) The agreement was signed on August 9, 2007, more than seven months before Plaintiff has alleged that she was misled by Defendants' "all natural" labeling in her purchase on March 30, 2008. (Id. ¶ 10.1.)

Other discovery documents produced by Plaintiff and her attorneys repeated the specific allegations about her March 30, 2008 purchase. Specifically, Plaintiff's responses to interrogatories on January 26, 2009 and October 19, 2009 repeated the allegation of the March 2008 purchase, and alleged specific details of her Arizona purchases only with respect to the March 30, 2008 purchase. (Donovan Decl. Ex. D, response to question 4; Donovan Decl. Ex. E, response to question 10.)

On February 16, 2010, Plaintiff was deposed by Defendants' counsel. (Donovan Decl. Ex. A.) Plaintiff was there confronted with questions over whether she had been incorrect in her allegation of the date of her purchase, or whether she had purchased the product on March 30, 2008, but with an awareness that she considered the "all natural" label to be false.

Q: So at the time you signed these Interrogatories you believed this answer [that she purchased the product on March 30, 2008, for a premium price based on a belief that the product was ...


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