Hebrew National Forced to “Answer to a Lower Authority”

A class action lawsuit has been filed against ConAgra Foods, Inc. [“ConAgra” or “Defendant”], the manufacturer and distributor of Hebrew National meat products such as beef franks, deli meats, and beef knockwursts.  The lawsuit alleges that the Defendant misled consumers in labeling its products “strictly 100% kosher.”  Con Agra has responded that the lawsuit is “without merit”.

The complaint was initially filed in the First Judicial District in the County of Dakota (but was later removed to the United States District Court, District of Minnesota by the Defendant). The complaint alleges that ConAgra “systematically mislabeled its Hebrew National food products…sold to be 100% kosher beef.” According to the complaint, the definition of 100% kosher associated with the Defendant’s use is “as defined by the most stringent Jews who follow Orthodox Jewish Law.” Plaintiffs contend that ConAgra failed “to adhere to that standard in practice” and seek recourse for the following counts:

1. Negligence
2. Violation of Nebraska Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act
3. Violation of Nebraska Consumer Protection Act
4. Violation of State Consumer Protection Laws
5. Breach of Express and/or Implied Warranty
6. Breach of Implied Warranty of Merchantability and Implied Warranty of Fitness

One of the disputes in many class action lawsuits is whether the class is similarly situated and entitled to sue as a class.  In this case, the Plaintiffs have defined the class as “All persons in the United States who purchased any individual package(s) of Defendant’s Hebrew National meat products during the Class Period”.  In determining whether this group is sufficiently uniform to qualify as a class and provide an equitable result to each of its members, one might first consider whether there are different groups of consumers who purchase Hebrew National meat products.  Such groups might include:

  • Those who adhere to the strictest kosher interpretation and would not have purchased Hebrew National products if such standards were not followed without exception
  • Those who follow the kosher tradition, but may not be as strict in their application
  • Those who do not keep kosher, but believe there is added value in the quality of a kosher product
  • Those who want an all beef product and chose to buy Hebrew National
  • Those who want meat products and chose to buy Hebrew National

Of course, even if the class is certified, there is still the question as to (i) whether the allegations are true and (ii) how any damages should be determined.  The complaint asserts that “Plaintiffs and the Class were harmed in the amount of the purchase price of Hebrew National products.”  However, even if the allegations are proven, damages are often a more complicated calculation than that described by Plaintiffs and usually require the employment of financial and/or survey experts to analyze the underlying consumer and financial data.

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