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Class Certification Denied in Crisco Suit

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - A federal judge sided with the maker of Crisco food oils by denying class certification to plaintiffs claiming the company lied about the oils being "all natural."

Melissa Leigh Randolph sued The J.M. Smucker Co. individually and on behalf of others similarly situated last year, claiming that some of the company's Crisco cooking oil products are not "all natural" as advertised.

Instead, the oils are "made from genetically modified plants and processed with harsh chemicals," Randolph claimed.

The proposed class consists of "all persons in Florida who, from May 2009 to the present, purchased Crisco Pure Vegetable Oil, Crisco Pure Canola Oil, Crisco Pure Corn Oil, and Crisco Natural Blend Oil," excluding anyone who purchased for resale or associated with Smucker, according to Randolph's complaint.

The court allowed the proposed class to amend its warranty claims in March, but U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom last week denied Randolph's motion to certify the class.

The judge found that the proposed class can't be ascertained.

"At this juncture, plaintiff has failed to set forth an administratively feasible method of determining class membership," Bloom wrote. "The variety of Crisco products and inconsistent labeling complicates the viability of self-identification via affidavit, and, at this stage, plaintiff has failed to present evidence on whether subpoenas may be utilized to overcome this issue. Accordingly, on the record presented here, the court cannot certify the class proposed."

Even if the class were ascertainable, Randolph hasn't demonstrated that she can prove class-wide measurable damages at trial, Bloom ruled.

"Plaintiff has not been [sic] established whether the use of the 'All Natural' in this context would deceive an objectively reasonable consumer," Bloom wrote. "Thus, any predominant issues succumb to individualized issues of fact, namely, whether the individual believes a product labeled as 'All Natural' derived from GMOs is indeed 'all natural,' and whether the class member actually purchased a product containing the challenged label."

Bloom also denied Smucker's motion to strike new evidence and an expert report that was submitted with Randolph's reply brief.

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