Baby Food Companies Oppose Consolidation of Baby Food Safety Litigation

Baby food production companies argued against transferring multiple complaints against one or all of the defendants to the Eastern District of New York in a response to some plaintiff’s motion to transfer various allegations against the companies alleging that they mislabeled their products by not alerting consumers to the presence of heavy metals, which are found in the environment and in common fruits and vegetables. 

The response, which was filed on Tuesday, responds to the first motion filed in the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation matter to address consolidating the many complaints filed this year against baby food companies following a House Subcommittee Report which claimed that the levels of heavy metals in baby foods are unsafe for children. There are currently about 57 related cases being heard in 14 different courts.

In their response, the companies including Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Campbell Soup Company, Gerber Products Company, The Hain Celestial Group Inc., Nurture Inc., Plum PBC, and Sprout Foods Inc., said that “their products are both safe and properly labeled.” The defendants cited the United States Food and Drug Administration’s action plan released in April which said that children are not at immediate risk and because the metals are found naturally having some levels in the food “unavoidable, and thus to be expected.”

The companies related that the underlying actions are clustered into “a handful of jurisdictions,” primarily in the manufacturers’ home districts, and that most jurisdictions have consolidated the various matters before them to a single judge.  The companies argued that the panel does not need to centralize the allegations into a single multidistrict litigation and that the allegations against each defendant “can be litigated far more efficiently in a single court before a single judge in that defendant’s home district, which is preferable to establishing an industry-wide multidistrict litigation cluttered with different claims against various combinations of named defendants.”

Additionally, the baby food producers argued that centralization would not fit this circumstance because the defendants are competitors and each of them produce different products and use ingredients from different growers. They purported that “it would lead to substantial inefficiencies as a single court attempts to grapple with the unique, unrelated facts for each defendant, thereby delaying adjudication of the central merits issues.” They explained that some of the complaints contained separate allegations, including personal injury claims which consider different questions.

Multiple groups of plaintiffs also filed responses in opposition to the motion on Tuesday with similar arguments. Some suggested that if the cases are consolidated they should be assigned to a different district court. Two other groups of plaintiffs filed responses in support of the opposition, arguing that the complaints contain the same allegations and that the requirements for consolidation have been met.

Beech-Nut is represented by King & Spalding LLP, Campbell Soup and Plum PBC are represented by Dechert LLP, Gerber is represented by White & Case LLP, Hain Celestial Group is represented by Jenner & Block LLP, Nurture is represented by DLA Piper LLP, and Sprout Foods is represented by Squire Patton Boggs LLP.