Panel to Consider Combining 6 Organic Milk Class Action Lawsuits

October 30th, 2007

Just which attorneys will handle the lead case, and where it will be heard, could take weeks to decide

by Sustainable Food News

A judicial panel will consider a motion to consolidate six class action lawsuits filed this month against the nation’s largest producer of private label organic milk.

A class action suit filed by a single plaintiff, Ilsa Lee Kaye, in New York City Tuesday was the latest in a rash of legal action against embattled Aurora Dairy Corporation, doing business as Aurora Organic Dairy (AOD).

Class action suits have been filed in Missouri, Florida, California and two in Colorado alleging AOD sold milk labeled as organic, at prices much higher than nonorganic milk, when it knew it didn’t meet standards for organic certification. The suits seek class action status and unspecified monetary damages, along with the injunction.

AOD maintains that its organic certifications are valid.

Gary Cox, attorney for the organic watchdog Cornucopia Institute and a lead attorney in one of the Colorado class action suits, told Sustainable Food News Friday that attorneys representing plaintiffs in the other Colorado lawsuit have filed a “Multi District Litigation” (MDL) motion with the court to consolidate the six cases under one judge and have it heard in the state.

The MDL panel is made up of a number of judges that meet monthly to consider which lawsuit should be the lead case, where should the consolidated cases be heard and which attorneys should handle the lead case.

Cox’s class action lawsuit against the dairy has 31 plaintiffs, a far greater number than the plaintiffs from the other suits combined.

Meanwhile, AOD has 28 days to file a response to each class action suit.

The company could also file a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(4) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is appropriate when the facts asserted by the plaintiff do not entitle him to a legal remedy.

AOD said in a statement that if the case goes to trial, it will prevail.

“There is absolutely no basis for claims we defrauded consumers by selling milk that isn’t organic none whatsoever. … Our milk is and always has been organic,” Marc Peperzak, AOD chairman and chief executive officer said in a statement. “Our USDA consent agreement makes clear that all of our organic certifications are valid.”

Request for additional comment from AOD was not immediately returned.

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