In 2012, Judith Janney and Amy McKendrick brought a class action suit against General Mills, Inc. alleging


In 2012, Judith Janney and Amy McKendrick brought a class action suit against General Mills, Inc. alleging that the terms "natural" and "100% natural" on its Nature Valley granola products were deceptive and misleading because the products contained high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, and maltodextrin. The terms appeared on the front of the product packaging as well as on the individual wrappers. The plaintiffs stated that among the reasons they purchased the products were that their children had health issues that responded better to all-natural foods (one child was diabetic and another had behavioral issues). The plaintiffs sued under various California statutes, including the state's False Advertising Law (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17500 et seq.). General Mills filed a motion to dismiss, alleging a failure to state a claim. Under the California law, a claim of false or misleading advertising is evaluated under the "reasonable consumer standard," meaning that to prevail, a plaintiff must show that members of the public are "likely to be deceived" by the advertising. General Mills asserted that the terms were mere puffery, in part because the FTC has not issued specific guidance on what the term "natural" means. General Mills also argued that "any possible misconception" a consumer might have would be cleared up by looking at the products' ingredients lists. Will a reasonable consumer be deceived by the terms "natural" and "100% natural"? Why or why not? Are these terms mere puffery, or are they factual representations? Can General Mills rely on the fact that its ingredients lists state exactly what is included in its products? Has General Mills acted ethically? [ Janney v. General Mills, Inc., 2014 WL 1266299 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 26, 2014).] Less than a month after the court issued its decision in Janney v. General Mills, Inc., General Mills updated the privacy policy on its website to notify consumers that they will lose their right to sue the company if they download its coupons, "join" it on Facebook, enter one of its sweepstakes or contests, or interact with it in other ways. Instead of bringing a lawsuit, a consumer must use informal negotiation through e-mail or submit to arbitration to settle the dispute. General Mills later added new language "suggesting that [merely] buying its products would bind consumers" to those terms. Why do you think General Mills instituted this policy? Do you think that instituting the policy was a smart marketing move for General Mills? Is it legally binding? [Information from Stephanie Strom, When "Liking" a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue, N.Y. Times, Apr. 17, 2014, at B1.]

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