Central District certifies false advertising class of consumers that purchased YoPlus yogurt

United States District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney (Central District of California) certified a class of California consumers that purchased YoPlus yogurt.   Johnson v. General Mills, Inc., --- F.R.D. ----, 2011 WL 1514702 (C.D.Cal. Apr 20, 2011).  The Court followed Tobacco II when analyzing whether reliance affected commonality:

Mr. Johnson may bring these UCL and CLRA claims on behalf of a class. Although Proposition 64 requires that Mr. Johnson actually relied on General Mills' alleged misrepresentations to bring his UCL claim, that requirement does not apply to absent class members. See In re Tobacco II Cases, 46 Cal.4th 298, 321, 326 (2009) (finding that Proposition 64 “was not intended to have any effect at all on unnamed members of UCL class actions”). Indeed, “relief under the UCL is available without individualized proof of deception, reliance and injury.” Id. at 320; see also In re Steroid Hormone Prod. Cases, 181 Cal.App. 4th 145, 154 (2010) (explaining that once the named plaintiff meets standing requirements “no further individualized proof of injury or causation is required to impose restitution liability [under the UCL] against the defendant in favor of absent class members”).

As the Supreme Court of California has explained in the UCL context, " ‘a presumption, or at least an inference, of reliance arises whenever there is a showing that a misrepresentation was material.’ " In re Tobacco II Cases, 46 Cal.4th at 327 (quoting Engalla v. Permanente Med. Grp., Inc., 15 Cal.4th 951, 977 (1997)). Similarly, a CLRA claim can be litigated on a classwide basis when the “record permits an ‘inference of common reliance’ to the class.” McAdams v. Monier, Inc., 182 Cal.App. 4th 174, 183 (2010) (quoting Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Superior Court, 97 Cal.App. 4th 1282, 1293 (2002)). A representation is material “if a reasonable man would attach importance to its existence or nonexistence in determining his choice of action in the transaction in question.” In re Tobacco II Cases, 46 Cal.4th at 327 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Clemens v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 534 F.3d 1017, 1025 (9th Cir.2008) (explaining that a concealed fact is “material” under the UCL if reasonable consumers are likely to be deceived). This “objective standard ... is susceptible to common proof.” Wolph v. Acer Am. Corp., ––– F.R.D. ––––, No. C 09–01314 JSW, 2011 WL 1110754, at *9 (N.D.Cal. Mar. 25, 2011). And materiality is generally a question of fact for the jury. In re Tobacco II Cases, 46 Cal.4th at 327.

Accordingly, Mr. Johnson's UCL and CLRA claims present core issues of law and fact that are common and suitable for adjudication on a classwide basis. These issues include: (1) whether General Mills communicated a representation—through YoPlus packaging and other marketing, including television and print advertisements—that YoPlus promoted digestive health; (2) if so, whether that representation was material to individuals purchasing YoPlus; (3) if the representation was material, whether it was truthful; in other words, whether YoPlus does confer a digestive health benefit that ordinary yogurt does not; and (4) if reasonable California consumers who purchased YoPlus were deceived by a material misrepresentation as to YoPlus' digestive health benefit, what is the proper method for calculating their damages. The commonality requirement is also met here.

Slip op., at 2-3.  Seems like products claiming digestive health benefits inevitably cause indigestion for the companies making those claims.