Baby Food Companies, Plaintiffs Debate Consolidation

Near the end of February, eight groups of plaintiffs filed a motion asking the Eastern District of New York to consolidate their complaints against The Hain Celestial Group that alleged that the company allows too many toxic materials into its baby food products. Since then, more complaints have been filed in the same court, which also could be added. On Monday, multiple plaintiffs and defendants filed responses, some arguing in favor of and some arguing against the consolidation.

One party that argued against the consolidation was Gerber Products Company, a defendant in three of the eight lawsuits, filing a motion to intervene. It asked the court not to include the three lawsuits in this action but instead to transfer them to the District of New Jersey, where there are five additional lawsuits against Gerber stemming from the same House Subcommittee Report. Gerber noted that the consolidation motion did not mention Gerber, only mentioning Hain as a defendant. Additionally, Gerber said the plaintiffs had not sufficiently alleged facts to establish that there was a relationship between the defendants.

Plum PBC and Nurture Inc., two baby food companies that are not party to the lawsuit where the consolidation motion was filed, also filed objections to the motion. Plum only is listed as a defendant in one of the eight lawsuits, filed by Michelle Walls. Plum asked for this lawsuit not to be included in the consolidation. Nurture asked that any claims against it not be included. 

Plaintiff Walls disagreed with the consolidation in a filing Monday, purporting that the plaintiffs who had filed the motion for consolidation did not sufficiently demonstrate that there were common questions to justify the consolidation or that the benefits of consolidation would outweigh “the potential prejudice to the Walls Plaintiffs.” Walls also noted that there is a broader motion pending before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation that would consolidate 43 cases, including the eight cases in question.

Hain filed a response in support of consolidation, saying that “while Hain Celestial contests these allegations, it does not oppose Plaintiffs’ request to consolidate the consumer fraud lawsuits predicated on this theory into a single proceeding before this Court.” It did, however, object to including the lawsuit filed by Walls in the consolidation because it includes claims of product liability and personal injury while the others allege consumer fraud. The defendant said those claims would present different questions of causation and that the lawsuit, along with others presenting similar claims, was filed on behalf of minor children rather than the parents who allegedly were misled while purchasing the food, as purported in the other lawsuits.

The plaintiffs in favor of the motion include the three that initially filed the motion to consolidate the cases: Nicole Stewart, Elizabeth Agramonte, and Summer Apicella. In their February memorandum in support of the consolidation, they reported that their complaint was the first to be filed in the Eastern District of New York. The memorandum explained that the eight actions all allege that the baby foods produced by Hain “are and were tainted with significant and dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury and that Hain misrepresented or omitted disclosure of this fact from consumers.” Further, the plaintiffs alleged that the actions are related, have similar factual and legal issues, would have similar discovery, and seek injunctive relief from Hain. 

The motion to consolidate also was supported in responses by Charlotte Willoughby, who filed as an individual plaintiff, and three other plaintiffs across the eight lawsuits. Each response agreed that consolidation would conserve judicial resources and would not add additional prejudice to the defendant.

Plaintiffs Stewart, Agramonte, and Apicella are represented by Calcaterra Pollack LLP and George Gesten McDonald PLLC. Michelle Walls is represented by Pollock Cohen LLP. Gerber is represented by Kelley Drye & Warren, Plum by Dechert, and Hain by Jenner & Block.