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In re Tropicana Orange Juice Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 22, 2018



          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiffs bring this class action against Defendant Tropicana Products, Inc. (“Defendant”), alleging numerous violations of common law and state consumer protection laws, in connection with Defendant's sale of orange juice. This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' motion for class certification pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. There was no oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' motion for class certification is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court assumes familiarity with the claims, facts and procedural history of the instant case and writes solely for the parties' benefit.[1] On June 22, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a motion to certify the class, appoint class representatives and appoint class counsel. See ECF No. 270. In their supporting memorandum of law, Plaintiffs argue that their claims “are the poster child for aggregate trial under Rule 23” because the conduct that they will prove is common to every potential class member. See Pls.' Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. (“Pls.' Mem.”) 1, ECF No. 271. At its core, Plaintiffs' argument centers on the alleged mislabeling and misbranding of Defendant's orange juice product, Tropicana Pure Premium (“TPP”). Plaintiffs intend to prove the following: (1) Defendant adds ingredients, namely natural flavoring, to TPP in violation of the Food and Drug Administration's (“FDA”) standard of identity for pasteurized orange juice; (2) Defendant's TPP labeling fails to disclose all ingredients, as required by law; (3) Defendant's marketing of TPP as “pure, natural and fresh from the grove” is “demonstrably false” given the added flavoring and is, therefore, uniformly misleading; and (4) Defendant's conduct entitles Plaintiffs and all other class members to damages. See id. at 2-3.

         Plaintiffs define their proposed class (the “Class”) as “[p]urchasers from California, New York, New Jersey, and Wisconsin of [TPP] from either Members Only clubs or Loyalty Card Stores from January 1, 2008 to June 22, 2017.” Plaintiffs also “seek to certify four individual subclasses for California, New York, New Jersey and Wisconsin.” Id. at 3. Plaintiffs submit that their theory of liability compels class treatment because “either TPP conforms to the standard of identity or it does not, either flavors are added or they are not.” Id. at 2.

         Defendant naturally opposes certification. Defendant advances four main points. First, Defendant argues that individual inquiries as to materiality, causation and loss are required to establish that a TPP consumer is in fact a member of the Class. See Def.'s Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. (“Def.'s Opp'n”) 2, ECF No. 281. Second, the named Plaintiffs are neither typical nor adequate representatives of the Class because none of these individuals referenced the supposed regulatory infraction, which is now the primary theory of liability that they advance. Id. at 2-3. Third, Plaintiffs fail to meet Rule 23(b)(3) because the Class members are not ascertainable and Plaintiffs' damages model does not align with their new theory of liability. Id. at 3. Fourth, Plaintiffs' claim for injunctive relief under Rule 23(b)(2) fails because they lack standing to pursue such relief and because the primary relief sought is individualized monetary damages. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiffs also filed a reply (ECF No. 285), both parties filed sur-replies (ECF Nos. 292 & 295), and Plaintiffs filed a notice of supplemental authority (ECF No. 297).


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) provides for class certification if: (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a). Courts commonly refer to these requirements as numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy. See In re Constar Int'l Inc. Sec. Litig., 585 F.3d 774, 780 (3d Cir. 2009).

         In addition to fulfilling Rule 23(a), a plaintiff must also meet one of the requirements set forth in Rule 23(b). Id. The requirements at issue here emanate from Rule 23(b)(2) and (b)(3). Rule 23(b)(2) permits certification where “the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(2). The rule “applies only when a single injunction or declaratory judgment would provide relief to each member of the class.” See Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 360 (2011). Rule 23(b)(3) permits certification only if “questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(3). “The twin requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) are known as predominance and superiority.” In re Hydrogen Peroxide Antitrust Litig., 552 F.3d 305, 310 (3d Cir. 2008).

         “Class certification is proper only if the trial court is satisfied, after a rigorous analysis, that the prerequisites of Rule 23 are met.” Id. at 309 (footnote and quotation marks omitted). Each Rule 23 requirement must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. See In re Blood Reagents Antitrust Litig., 783 F.3d 183, 187 (3d Cir. 2015). While the class certification analysis may “entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim, ” Wal-Mart Stores, 564 U.S. at 351, courts consider merits questions only to the extent that they are relevant to determining whether Rule 23 prerequisites have been met. See Amgen Inc. v. Conn. Ret. Plans & Trust Funds, 568 U.S. 455, 466 (2013) (internal citations omitted).


         The Court will first address the Rule 23(a) requirements before turning to Rule 23(b)(2) and (3). Ultimately, the Court finds that Plaintiffs meet Rule 23(a) but fall short of their obligations under Rule 23(b). The Court, therefore, denies class certification.

         A. Plaintiffs' Claims Satisfy Rule 23(a)

         The Court finds that Plaintiffs' claims meet the four requirements under Rule 23(a). As an initial matter, the Court notes that Defendant does not address Plaintiffs' arguments concerning numerosity and commonality. Nonetheless, the rule requires the satisfaction of each requirement and the Court will consider each in turn.

         i. Numerosity

         Numerosity is satisfied when joinder of all putative class members is impracticable. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(1). Plaintiffs' class definition incorporates any person who purchased TPP within the four named states for a period of approximately nine years. See Pls.' Mem. at 3. Clearly, the number of potential class members could reach into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, rendering joinder impracticable. Plaintiffs' claims satisfy numerosity.

         ii. Commonality

         “Commonality is a consideration of whether there are ‘questions of law common to the class[.]' Commonality is satisfied when there are classwide answers.” Reyes v. Netdeposit, LLC, 802 F.3d 469, 482 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(2)) (citation omitted). Plaintiffs identify four questions common to the Class: “(1) whether TPP conforms with the standard of identity for pasteurized orange juice; (2) whether TPP contains undisclosed flavors; (3) whether TPP's label is misleading; and (4) whether the conduct of Defendant is such that Plaintiffs and other members of the Classes are entitled to damages.” Pls.' Mem. at 26. Plaintiffs argue that the claims of each class member will universally turn on the answers to these questions because Defendant's conduct was the same to every member and, therefore, “the lawfulness of [Defendant's] conduct is not unique to any members of the Classes.” Id. at 27. The Court agrees. Plaintiffs' claims satisfy commonality. See Reyes, 802 F.3d at 486 (“A court's focus must be on whether the defendant's conduct [is] common as to all of the class members[.]”) (quotation and citation omitted).

         iii. Typicality

         “The concepts of commonality and typicality are broadly defined and tend to merge.” Baby Neal ex rel. Kanter v. Casey, 43 F.3d 48, 56 (3d Cir. 1994). “The typicality inquiry centers on whether the interest of the named plaintiffs align with the interests of the absent members.” Stewart v. Abraham, 275 F.3d 220, 227 (3d Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). “‘[C]ases challenging the same unlawful conduct which affects both the named plaintiffs and the putative class usually satisfy the typicality requirement irrespective of the varying fact patterns underlying the individual claims.'” Id. (quoting Baby Neal, 43 F.3d at 58. “Factual differences will not render a claim atypical if the claim arises from the same event or practice or course of conduct that gives rise to the claims of the [absent] class members, and if it is based on the same legal theory.” Id. at 227-28 (quotation and citation omitted).

         Plaintiffs argue that the named Plaintiffs' claims “are identical to those of the Classes in all respects except for the amount of damages” because they “arise from the same events, the same course of Defendant's conduct, and are based on the same legal theories[.]” See Pls.' Mem. at 27-28. Defendants disagree, arguing that the named Plaintiffs' claims are atypical because none of the named Plaintiffs “testified that their decision to purchase TPP turned on the standard of identity or labeling regulations.” See Def.'s Opp'n at 29. Individual purchasing decisions, however, do not make Plaintiffs' claims atypical. Each of the named Plaintiffs' claims arise from their individual purchases of TPP and the injuries alleged universally arise from Defendant's conduct-i.e., the purported mislabeling of TPP. That Plaintiffs have shifted their theory of liability ...

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