Organic Product Labeling Fraud

tytanium | 12.21.17

The California Supreme Court just opened the gates for organic product fraud litigation. In Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc. (2015) 62 Cal. 4th 298, where the defendant made misrepresentations to the public by selling non-organic thyme labeled organic, the court considered whether the federal Organic Foods Act (“FOFA”) preempted private plaintiffs from bringing fraud claims based on federal labeling guidelines. The court held that FOFA did not, stating, “state lawsuits alleging intentional organic mislabeling promote, rather than hinder, Congress’s purposes and objectives.” (Id. at pg. 303). As such, California citizens may now enjoy California consumer protection laws with regards to organic labeling fraud.

Such laws include the California Consumers Legal Remedy Act (“CLRA”) (Civ. Code § 1750 et seq.), which allows for representative suits for cases dealing with unfair business practices, like “[r]epresenting that goods or services are of a particular standard, quality, or grade, or that goods are of a particular style or model, if they are of another.” (Civ. Code § 1770(a)(1)). These laws open the door for additional remedies in the form of actual damages, injunctive relief, restitution for lost property, punitive damages, and attorney fees. (Civ. Code § 1780). Furthermore, if you are a senior citizen or disabled, you may be entitled to additional rewards of up to $5,000 if you can show substantial physical, emotional, and economic damages caused by the unlawful activity. (Civ. Code § 1780(b)(1)). California plaintiffs also enjoy California’s similar Unlawful Competition Laws. (Bus. & Prof. Code §17200 et seq.).

There is still hope for defendants. Civil Code § 1784 provides:

No award of damages may be given in any action based on a method, act, or practice declared to be unlawful by Section 1770 if the person alleged to have employed or committed such method, act, or practice (a) proves that such violation was not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the use of reasonable procedures adopted to avoid any such error and (b) makes an appropriate correction, repair or replacement or other remedy of the goods and services according to the provisions of subdivisions (b) and (c) of Section 1782.

Furthermore, there is also a notice requirement for CLRA suits. A plaintiff must give the defendant at least a 30 day notice to quit and remedy unlawful activities before plaintiff can initiate a law suit. (Civ. Code § 1782(a)). No action can be maintained if the defendant makes “appropriate correction, repair, replacement, or other remedy is given, or agreed to be given within a reasonable time, to the consumer within 30 days after receipt of the notice.” (Civ. Code § 1782(b)).

If you feel like you have been fraudulently taken advantage of by farming companies abusing federal or California organic labeling guidelines, or in the alternative you receive notice of an impending CLRA suit, please call LloydWinter P.C. We can help you bring your clam or defense to court.

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