Quaker Oats to Fight Syrup Claims in Cali

     (CN) — Quaker Oats may battle in California claims that it overcharges consumers and hurts maple syrup makers by falsely claiming that its oatmeal contains maple syrup, a federal judge ruled.
     Since March, plaintiffs across several states, starting in California, have sued the Quaker Oats Co. in four federal putative class actions, alleging the company prints misinformation on its Maple & Brown Sugar oatmeal packaging.
     Barbara Gates filed one such suit in Newark, N.J. on April 7, similarly claiming that the oatmeal actually does not contain the “premium ingredients” maple syrup or maple sugar.
     “Maple syrup contains an abundant amount of naturally occurring minerals such as calcium, manganese, potassium, and magnesium,” the complaint states. “It is also a source of beneficial antioxidants that have shown to help prevent cancer, support the immune system, lower blood pressure and slow the effects of aging.”
     Though the oatmeal “prominently displays the words ‘Maple & Brown Sugar’ on its packaging along with images of a pitcher of maple syrup,” it does not contain the premium ingredients, according to the complaint.
     The plaintiffs say they have thus had to pay premium prices for sub-par products.
     Plus, the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association and over ten other industry groups have allegedly said the misbranding harms real maple syrup manufacturers by letting “cheaper products” compete with those actually containing premium maple syrup.
     The products at issue include these Quaker maple & brown sugar instant oatmeal varieties: High Fiber, Gluten Free, Lower Sugar, Weight Control, and Organic.
     Gates’ five-count complaint alleges violations of the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act; as well as that of Illinois; New Jersey, D.C., Illinois, and other states’ consumer fraud laws; and breach of express warranty under New Jersey law.
     After the Chicago class moved to transfer and consolidate all the lawsuits in their court, Gates followed suit, calling the cases “nearly identical.”
     The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation denied the Chicago plaintiffs’ motion, but suggested that the parties seek “transfer of the later-filed cases under the ‘first-to-file rule.'”
     The Chicago-based Quaker Oats, in turn, moved to transfer the suits to California.
     U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman granted Quaker’s motion Wednesday.
     “Plaintiff’s claims involve the same parties — the putative class members and defendant Quaker,” Hillman wrote. “Plaintiff’s claims involve the same issues of law, including whether certain claims are preempted by federal law. Moreover, plaintiff previously supported the transfer of her case as part of a [multidistrict litigation] MDL because ‘centralization is necessary in order to avoid duplication of discovery, prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.’ Those considerations have not disappeared simply because the request for an MDL was denied. Finally, plaintiff has not opposed Quaker’s motion to transfer, which evidences a tacit concession to all of these points.”
     Finding that “the public and private factors for transfer of venue, together with the principles of the first-filed rule, all warrant the transfer of this action to the Central District of California,” the judge transferred the suits.
     Attorneys with Walsh Pizzi O’Reilly Falanga in Newark, N.J. for Quaker, and Gates’ attorney, Stephen Denittis with Denittis Osefchen in Marlton, N.J., did not return requests for comment emailed Thursday.

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