Dismissal Discussed in Kraft Heinz Natural Cheese Lawsuit, Following Decision in D.C. Court

On Wednesday, plaintiffs in a California Northern District cheese packaging lawsuit waiting on a motion for dismissal ruling filed a notice citing that a motion to dismiss was denied on Monday in a similar lawsuit against Kraft Heinz, the same defendant, in the D.C. Superior Court. The plaintiffs in both lawsuits alleged that Kraft Heinz falsely claimed its cheese is natural when it is made from the milk of cows who were fed growth hormones. 

The D.C. Superior Court matter, which was filed by the Organic Consumers Association in December, cited the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act and contested the same “natural” claim on Kraft branded cheese. That court determined that the question of whether a reasonable consumer would consider “natural” to mean that the milk did not come from cows with hormones would be a question for a jury, rather than for the court. 

The Order in the D.C. lawsuit explained that neither party alleged that the hormones ended up in the milk or cheese, but that the Organic Consumers Association claimed that the final product was altered, and could “harmfully affect humans.” 

In the California lawsuit, the plaintiffs filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss, alleging that reasonable consumers would not expect cheese which claims to be natural to be made with milk from cows who were fed artificial hormones. Sylvia Koh and David Green, the plaintiffs, explained that Kraft Heinz has admitted that rbST, an artificial growth hormone, is given to the cows. Both parties agreed that the hormone is not present in the cheese. 

The defendant Kraft Heinz argued in a motion to dismiss in September 2020, that the “natural” claim on its products would not be considered false or misleading by a reasonable consumer.  Additionally, the company claimed that the plaintiffs did not have a threat of harm and therefore did not have standing for injunctive relief. The defendant further claimed that “natural cheese” is commonly used to refer to cheese made from milk without added artificial ingredients. 

The motion to dismiss was set to be heard in December, but the court vacated that hearing. Reportedly, the Food and Drug Administration is in the process reviewing the term “natural” and so Kraft Heinz argued that the case, and the D.C. case, should not be heard while it is still under consideration. The D.C. Court stated that it does not agree that this should lead to a stay, citing that it would not determine what a reasonable consumer would think and denied the stay in addition to the dismissal. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Richman Law Group. Kraft Heinz is represented by Sidley Austin