Ninth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Sanderson Farms’ False Advertising Lawsuit

The Ninth Circuit issued an opinion on Wednesday in a lawsuit against Sanderson Farms Inc. purporting that it misled consumers about its use of antibiotics filed by non-profit organizations. The court agreed with the district court’s dismissal on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not have organizational standing. This decision followed arguments in the matter in Oct. 2020. 

In the opinion, the court said, “to establish organizational standing, the Advocacy Groups needed to show that the challenged conduct frustrated their organization missions and that they diverted resources to combat that conduct.” Reportedly, they did not show that they had diverted resources but rather continued what they had been working on previously to inform the public about “various companies’ antibiotic practices.” 

The plaintiffs, Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety, and Organic Consumers Association, alleged that Sanderson Farms misled consumers in its advertising about its use of antibiotics in raising chicken claiming that it was “100% natural” when in reality the company routinely used antibiotics. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs inform consumers about “downsides of routine antibiotic use” and ask restaurants to only purchase meat from companies which do not use antibiotics. Sanderson reportedly continues to supply chicken to restaurants, including Olive Garden. 

To address allegations that they did not have standing, the non-profit companies argued that they were also challenging Sanderson Farms’ practices and not just the advertising, however, the court ruled that the plaintiffs Unfair Competition Law claim “was tethered to Sanderson’s advertisements.” According to the Ninth Circuit, the district court “after two years and mountains of discovery” accurately found that the groups did not have any diverted resources due to Sanderson Farms’ actions. 

A separate lawsuit in the Northern District of California with similar allegations against Sanderson Farms was placed on hold pending this decision. The parties in that lawsuit will meet within 21 days to determine further scheduling. 

The plaintiffs were represented by Greenfire Law PC and Elsner Law & Policy LLC. The defendant was represented by Kirkland & Ellis