Smithfield Seeks to Dismiss Lawsuit Over COVID-19 Related Messaging

Smithfield Foods asked the District of Columbia District Court on Friday to dismiss a lawsuit filed against it by Food and Water Watch (FWW). The defendant alleged that the plaintiff lacks standing, failed to state a claim, and that their application of the law would violate the First Amendment. 

The lawsuit filed by the FWW under the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) alleged that Smithfield made misleading statements at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic about how it was protecting employees. The lawsuit was filed in June and was moved by the defendant to federal court in late July. 

In the present filing, Smithfield Foods explained that FWW did not claim that it diverted resources due to the allegedly false statements, but rather that it gained money based on the statements. “Rather than impairing FWW’s programmatic activities, Smithfield’s statements gave FWW a high-profile target at which to direct those activities and served as a basis for fundraising,” the motion claimed. 

Additionally, Smithfield Foods noted that the plaintiffs had not described consumers that they represent or stated a claim under the CPPA because it applies to consumer transactions. The defendant argued that since the statements did not apply to specific consumers purchasing its products, but rather to general public matters and were similar to statements made by federal and state governments that the claims should be dismissed. 

Smithfield Foods argued that consumers understood the need for meatpacking plants to continue to be in operation during the pandemic, and that they could not completely eliminate the risk of workers contracting COVID-19. Because it’s statements to that effect were not advertisements and did not cite company products, the company alleged that they should be classified as non-commercial speech and that the court ruling against them would be a violation of the First Amendment. The defendant further alleged that FWW through its lawsuit is seeking to use the CPPA to keep it out of a nationwide debate. 

Smithfield is represented by Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. The plaintiff is represented by its own lawyers, Public Justice PC, Berger Montague PC, and Towards Justice