A California federal judge on Tuesday trimmed consumers’ putative class actions against a J.M. Smucker Co. unit that sold pet food containing a sedative, finding that the unit must face claims that the food labels were false or misled consumers.
In a 62-page partially redacted order on Big Heart Pet Brands’ motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that though the consumers cannot proceed on claims based on representations found on Big Heart’s website or on other advertisements, the consumers can still pursue misrepresentation claims concerning the labels found on the dog food.
The consumers say that Big Heart failed to disclose that its Gravy Train dog food products contained pentobarbital, a synthetic Schedule II controlled substance, and that the unit also failed to reimburse individuals and businesses for the contaminated products.
The judge took note that though the plaintiffs alleged that Big Heart guaranteed the safety and quality of the dog food on its website, the consumers failed to allege any reliance on those statements since they did not allege they visited the website and saw those respective statements.
The litigation stems from an investigation into the products after an incident on New Year’s Eve in 2016 when five dogs became ill shortly after eating from the same can of dog food in Washington, D.C. One of the five dogs died and the owner had the food tested, sparking an independent investigation into the products, which detected pentobarbital in Big Heart’s products, court documents show. The results of the investigation in turn pushed the FDA to look into the matter. The FDA said in a 2018 statement that it found low levels of the drug in Big Heart’s Gravy Train samples that are “unlikely to pose a health risk to pets.”
In an attempt to toss the consumers’ putative class actions, Big Heart told Judge White in March 2019 that the contamination problem had been addressed by a voluntary recall and new testing policies.