(CN) - Hebrew National should not face claims that its hot dogs are not 100 percent kosher, because consumers cannot show that the packages they bought contained non-kosher meat, the 8th Circuit ruled.
Melvin Wallace led a federal class action in Minnesota, alleging that ConAgra Foods dba Hebrew National failed to consistently inspect, slaughter, clean and segregate the animals and meat used in Hebrew National products, as "required to be considered kosher under the standard defendant represents to the public."
Wallace and 10 other named plaintiffs claimed they did not buy the hot dogs for religious reasons, but because they believed ConAgra's representations that kosher is the "new organic," leading them to pay more for what they believed were purer hot dogs.
They claim that Hebrew National faces such a demand for its products that some "meat from cows that should not qualify for kosher certification ends up being marked kosher."
A federal judge dismissed the case with prejudice last year, agreeing with ConAgra that the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment bar such claims.
"Supreme Court precedent has firmly established the principal that civil courts may not be called upon to interpret doctrinal matters or tenets of faith," U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank wrote then.
But Frank did not consider whether plaintiffs have standing in Federal Court, the 8th Circuit ruled last week.
Vacating the lower court's judgment, Judge William Riley found that the consumers lack standing because they suffered no concrete injury.
"The consumers' allegations do not establish that all or even most Hebrew National products were not kosher, which means the particular packages of processed beef they purchased may have been - and indeed more than likely were - prepared in accordance with minimum kosher standards," Riley wrote.
The plaintiffs acknowledge that it is impossible for them to tell if any one package of Hebrew National hot dogs contains non-kosher meat.
"Without any particularized reason to think the consumers' own packages of Hebrew National beef actually exhibited the alleged non-kosher defect, the consumers lack Article III standing to sue ConAgra. ... As we cannot discern from the complaint how many packages were tainted with non-kosher beef, it is unclear whether even a bare majority of Hebrew National packages were not kosher. Which means, it is pure speculation to say the particular packages sold to the consumers were tainted by non-kosher beef, while it is quite plausible ConAgra sold the consumers exactly what was promised: a higher quality, kosher meat product," the 12-page opinion states.
However, this does not mean the case should be dismissed with prejudice, Riley found.
Since the case originated in state court, the Federal Court must remand rather than enter a final judgment.
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