New Jersey is a hotbed of food-based litigation. Late last year, the popular supermarket chain Wegmans was sued because its bread is not made from scratch at each store. Rather than settling this rather frivolous claim, Wegmans is fighting back, and in doing so is revealing how much of a shake-down these sorts of lawsuits truly are.
As Law360 reports, Wegmans is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed because the plaintiffs have not claimed that they ever even bought the bread they are suing over:
“Nowhere in the complaint do plaintiffs allege specifics as to what happened to them,” the motion to dismiss said. “The amended complaint does not allege specific products that were purchased, when they were purchased, how they were purchased, the location from which purchases were allegedly made, the specific amounts that were paid for the products, or even whether any plaintiff paid a specific premium for the alleged products they purportedly purchased.”
It is terrible that our state’s businesses are being forced to defend against such ridiculous claims, but New Jersey basically invites food-based litigation with its overly broad Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). In fact, New Jersey is second only to California in the number of food-based lawsuits filed in its courts. Plaintiffs are eager to file food-based CFA claims in New Jersey for several reasons:
- Plaintiffs do not have to prove that defendants actually defrauded or deceived them to recover damages – a technical violation of the law will suffice.
- Plaintiffs do not need to show out-of-pocket losses.
- Plaintiffs do not need to live in New Jersey to file a claim here.
- Prevailing plaintiffs are routinely awarded treble (aka triple) damages and reimbursement of their attorney fees and court costs.
One of NJCJI’s top priorities this session is adopting some basic, technical changes that will make the CFA less onerous while still providing strong protections to consumers. NJCJI urges the legislature to:
- Limit the CFA to transactions occurring in the State of New Jersey or to transactions with New Jersey residents.
- Require plaintiffs to prove that they relied on the misrepresentation when they purchased the product or service.
- Require consumers to ask for their money back or for the alleged fraud to be fixed prior to bringing suit.
- Limit the award of attorney’s fees and costs to those fees reasonably attributable to the CFA claim.
- Allow the court discretion in awarding treble damages, as is common in other states.
- Limit the CFA’s applicability against industries that are already subject to the Federal Trade Commission and other regulatory structures.
If you agree that we’ve had enough half-baked food lawsuits filed in New Jersey, and that it is time to make some common sense changes to the law, click here to sign our petition to the New Jersey Legislature.