(CN) – A woman who gained weight after taking the diet pill Relacore can pursue a class action claiming she was duped into buying the product, New Jersey’s highest court ruled.
Melissa Lee said The Carter Reed Co., which sells the pill, falsely claimed in ads that the “feel-good pill” banished belly fat by reducing the “nasty little stress hormone” cortisol.
The sales consultant and mother of four said she took the pill for four months and got fatter.
A trial court denied Lee class certification, ruling that she could not support her claims that all the ads were false. The New Jersey appellate division affirmed.
But the state’s Supreme Court sided with Lee. Describing Relacore as a “bottle of broken promises,” the Trenton court said the lower courts failed to view “the record in a light favorable to plaintiff,” as required by state law.
“Because those courts failed to give a deferential view to plaintiff’s case at the class-certification stage, they applied legal principles to a distorted picture of the record,” Justice Barry Albin wrote for the high court.
Albin said Lee’s allegations were “not a mere parroting of the legal requirements,” but instead painted “a picture of a far-flung fraud.”
The lower courts assumed that some of the benefits Relacore promoted were true and that the claims could be resolved individually. But Albin said that approach was flawed.
“If Relacore offered none of the benefits claimed in Carter Reed’s multi-media advertising campaign, then it would make little difference whether a class member purchased the product because of one false promise,” Albin wrote. “If the entire marketing scheme was based on the fictional benefits that Relacore offered, then whether the class member enjoyed good or impaired health or took other medication would hardly matter.
“A corporate defendant engaged in a marketing scheme founded on a multiplicity of deceptions should not be in a better position in fending off a motion for class certification than a defendant engaged in a sole marketing deception,” he added.
The court said a class action was “perhaps the only practical vehicle” for consumers purportedly duped into buying a “worthless product that cost only about $40.”
“The whole point of a class action is to provide a diffuse group of persons, whose claims are too small to litigate individually, the opportunity to engage in collective action and to balance the scales of power between the putative class members and a corporate entity,” Albin concluded.