Chinese Dog Treat Cases Kicked to Pennsylvania

     (CN) – A federal judge agreed to let one court handle several new class actions concerning dogs poisoned by Chinese chicken jerky treats sold by Del Monte subsidiary Milo’s Kitchen.
     Maxine Ruff, of North Carolina, and Mary Emily Funke, of California, had each filed separate federal class actions against Del Monte and Milo’s Kitchen in October 2012 after their dogs became sick and died from eating chicken jerky treats.
     The complaints in the Northern District of California accused Del Monte and Milo’s of misrepresenting the treats as wholesome and nutritious when they knew that the products were actually contaminated.
     Ruff seeks to represent those who bought the treats for their own or personal, household, or family use, rather than for resale or distribution, as well as two proposed sub-classes. Funke seeks to represent those who bought the treats from 2007 to the present, as well as four sub-classes.
     Del Monte is one of a dozen manufacturers that participated in a $24 million settlement in 2011 over wet pet food that had allegedly been contaminated with melamine and cyanuric acid.
     That deal, however, did not mark the end to lawsuits against Del Monte.
     Lisa Mazur filed a July 2012 federal class action against Del Monte and Milo’s in the Western District of Pennsylvania. She claimed that her healthy 7-year-old dog, Riley Rae, suffered kidney failure and had to be euthanized after eating Del Monte treats from time to time for about a month.
     Christopher V. Langone filed similar claims in San Francisco in September, but voluntarily dismissed his case on Feb. 21.
     Last week U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White agreed to transfer the Ruff and Funke cases to Pittsburgh where Mazur’s is pending.
     The chronology of the two actions and the similarity of the parties and issues favored transferring the case, according to the judgment.
     “Each of these three factors weigh in favor of applying the first-to-file rule,” White wrote. “First, it is undisputed that the Mazur case was the first of these three cases filed. Second, although there are three different plaintiffs, defendants are named in all three suits. Further, all three plaintiffs bring their claims on behalf of nationwide classes that are substantially similar in scope. Thus, the parties are substantially similar. Third, the issues in each of the three cases are similar. Each of the three cases raise similar claims based on allegations that the defendants misrepresented the wholesome nature of the dog treats and failed to adequately warn consumers of the alleged dangers involved.”
     The case met all convenience factors for transfer, as well.
     “The court is aware that, in its discretion, it could relax the first-to-file rule if the traditional Section 1404(a) factors weighed against transfer,” White wrote.
     Noting “the potential for conflicting rulings, duplicative discovery, and the potential costs to the parties and to potential witnesses,” White said the court would not “exercise its discretion to relax the first-to-file rule in this case.”
     White said the defendants can try again to consolidate or dismiss the action in Pennsylvania.

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