Court Denies Folger Coffee Company’s Bid to Dismiss Marketing Multidistrict Litigation

On Wednesday, the Western District of Missouri issued an order denying J.M. Smucker Company’s and the Folger Coffee Company’s motion to dismiss in the case of In re Folgers Coffee Marketing. According to the order, the case is a multidistrict litigation with the plaintiffs alleging J.M. Smucker Company and its subsidiary, The Folger Coffee Company, are labeling coffee canisters in a way that misrepresents how many cups of coffee a consumer can brew from its contents. 

The order states that in April 2021, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated nine cases from across the country with similar allegations about misleading labels on Folgers coffee. The order goes on to state that on the onset of litigation, the plaintiffs divided into two factions supporting different leadership teams for the litigation, and the court subsequently appointed one of the leadership teams to represent the plaintiffs.  

Following the appointment of the leadership team, the court states that the first consolidated complaint omitted some of the original plaintiffs in favor of different individuals, referred to as the new plaintiffs. In August 2021, the court directed the plaintiffs to file an amended consolidated complaint which included the claims of the original plaintiffs, and that complaint was dismissed by the court through defendants’ motion in December 2021. 

The order purports that while this was happening, the new plaintiffs began filing separate lawsuits in various states, and the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation subsequently consolidated those lawsuits with the current multidistrict litigation. Further, in January 2022, the plaintiffs requested and received permission to file a Second Amended Consolidated Complaint incorporating the claims of all individual plaintiffs, both new and original.

In February 2022, the defendants filed the current motion to dismiss which raised novel arguments from the original motion addressing procedural issues relating to the new plaintiffs. Specifically, the defendants argue that the new plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed under the “First-to-File” rule, the court should dismiss with prejudice all claims that were abandoned in the Second Amended Consolidated Complaint, and a plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim should be dismissed because she has as an adequate remedy at law, and thus, she may not assert a claim arising in equity. 

In the order, the court ruled that the defendants’ “First-to-File” rule argument fails because the new plaintiffs are not the same party as the original plaintiffs. Additionally, the court held that the abandoned claims cannot be dismissed, with or without prejudice, because they are abandoned and no longer in the case at all. Finally, the order states that the defendants’ argument against the unjust enrichment claim also fails because the court is not aware of any Eighth Circuit law requiring the dismissal of unjust enrichment claims pled alongside legal remedies and therefore, the court declines to dismiss the unjust enrichment claim. 

The defendants are represented by Sandberg, Phoenix & Von Gontard, PC, Winston & Strawn and Morrison & Foerster. The plaintiffs are represented by Faruqi & Faruqi and Bonnett Fairbourn Friedman & Balint.