Sanderson Farms Attempts to Dismiss False Advertising Claims

On Wednesday, Sanderson Farms Inc. filed a motion asking the Northern District of California to dismiss a false advertising lawsuit against it from In Defense of Animals and Friends of the Earth. The motion purported that the plaintiffs do not have Article III standing, because they did not purchase its products because of the alleged false advertising, and did not “plead viable California claims.”

The motion applied to a complaint filed on July 31, 2020, purporting that Sanderson Farms fraudulently presented its products on its advertising, claiming that the chicken is “100% Natural” when they are given antibiotics frequently and housed close together in large sheds. The plaintiffs alleged that the advertising would lead a consumer to think that the chicken products did not have residue from antibiotics or other pharmaceuticals. 

More recently, on March 31, 2021, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a Northern District of California decision to dismiss a lawsuit with similar allegations filed by Friends of the Earth, which is a plaintiff in both lawsuits, and two other organizations. The appellate court ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing because they did not alter their efforts or move resources based on the actions of Sanderson Farms, as they already inform consumers about the potential harms of antibiotics in chicken.

In the present motion, Sanderson Farms alleged that the current lawsuit, which was stayed while waiting for the Ninth Circuit’s decision, is “a copycat suit,” copying the one which was dismissed two years ago by the same court, and later considered in the Ninth Circuit.

“Not long after the ink had dried on this Court’s July 2019 dismissal, the organizations in the prior suit, along with a new one … set about finding ways to diminish the Court’s ruling, engaging in superficial activities in an effort to gin up standing,” the motion claimed.

Sanderson Farms said that the plaintiffs still do not have standing, and argued that it should not be required by the court to continue paying court costs for this lawsuit when it is the same as the one which was already decided in its favor. The defendant claimed that the two lawsuits have the same premise and that the plaintiffs did not participate in advocacy activities that were outside of their typical business.

According to the defendant, if the plaintiffs did successfully establish that they had diverted resources, their allegations would still “plainly fail to state claims” under California’s false advertising and unfair competition laws.

The motion will be considered in a hearing on July 8. Sanderson Farms is represented by Kirkland & Ellis LLP. The plaintiffs are represented by The Law Office of Paige M. Tomaselli and Elsner Law & Policy LLC