Reconsideration of Honey Bunches of Oats false advertising claims denied

A court found that consumers failed to show why a reasonable consumer would believe Honey Bunches of Oats was sweetened primarily by honey.

In a memorandum opinion and order, a court denied consumers’ motion for reconsideration of their claims that Post Consumer Brands, LLC used deceptive packaging and advertising that led consumers to believe that Honey Bunches of Oats was sweetened primarily by honey. The court found that emphasizing the imagery of bees and honey on a product that contained honey and tasted like honey, was not deceptive (Lima v. Post Consumer Brands, LLC, October 2, 2019, Burroughs, A.).

Labeling. Two consumers purchased Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds under the belief that the cereal was sweetened exclusively or primarily with honey. The consumers relied on television commercials and the product branding and packaging that emphasized the presence of honey. The consumers claimed that the packaging and marketing led them to expect that honey was a prominent ingredient. The consumers did not look at the ingredient list, which disclosed that honey is the cereal’s fifth most prominent sweetener. The consumers filed a putative class action against Post, alleging that the advertising and packaging of Honey Bunches of Oats was deceptive. Post filed a motion to dismiss and the court granted the motion (see Health Law Daily, Aug. 16, 2019). The consumers then filed a motion for reconsideration.

Consumer protection claims. The consumers argued that whether Post’s packaging was ambiguous was a determination of law that should not have been made at the motion to dismiss stage. They further argued that the issue of whether the consumers were reasonable to think that honey was the predominant sweetener should have been left to the jury. The court noted that it did not consider the factual matter of whether the consumers were misled by the packaging, but instead considered whether the allegations made it plausible that on a full factual record, a factfinder could reasonably regard the label as having the capacity to mislead.

The consumers further argued that they should not have had the burden of pleading why they concluded that honey was a sweetener, as opposed to a flavor. The court held that it was permissible for Post to use the images of honey and bees because honey was a characterizing flavor and the cereal included honey as an ingredient. Had the cereal not contained honey, then Post would have been required to include sufficient cautionary language explaining that it was naturally or artificially flavored. Because the cereal did contain honey, the burden shifted to the consumers to plead why the packaging and marketing would lead a consumer to believe that the cereal was not only honey flavored and contained honey, but also that honey was the primary sweetener. The consumers failed to plead why they believed honey was a sweetener and not only a flavor.

Express warranty claims. The consumers argued that the court failed to consider that an express warranty can be created through the packaging’s words and images. The court noted that it was explicit in its analysis of the use of the Honey Bunches of Oats brand name and the imagery on the packaging to determine whether Post made an express warranty. The court held that the consumer failed to demonstrate that the court’s analysis depended on a misinterpretation of law.

Request for leave to replead. The consumers asked the court to give them leave to amend to include a survey the consumers conducted relating to consumer impression of the packaging at issue. The consumer pointed to their opposition to the motion to dismiss, which contained a request that “if the Court believes any aspect of Post’s motion should be granted for a reason that has not previously been subject of amendment, Plaintiffs request leave to amend.” The court cited the circuit court in finding that “a passing request for contingent leave to file an amended complaint, made in opposition to a motion to dismiss, is insufficient, in and of itself, to bring a post-judgement motion for reconsideration within the orbit” of the requirement that courts freely give leave to amend.