Friday, April 04, 2014

8th Circuit Sends Suit Against Hebrew National Back To State Court

In Wallace v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., (8th Cir., April 4, 2014), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals took an unexpected route in deciding the appeal in a lawsuit against the manufacturer of Hebrew National hot dogs.  A Minnesota federal district court had dismissed the suit by consumers who claimed that ConAgra misrepresented that Hebrew National products are made of "100% kosher beef" because ConAgra's standards for kosher slaughter were inadequate. The district court held that this posed a religious question that could not be decided by the civil courts. (See prior posting.)

The 8th Circuit, however, examined more closely the nature of plaintiffs' objections to ConAgra's kosher standards.  One part of the kosher certification process is the examination of the slaughtered cow's lungs. Certain defects in the lungs would render the entire carcass non-kosher. The allegations in the ConAgra lawsuit were that production pressures led to some carcasses that should have been rejected instead being marked as kosher.  The 8th Circuit concluded that even if this were true, no consumer would be able to identify whether the particular hot dogs he or she purchased were improperly certified. It went on:
Without any particularized reason to think the consumers’ own packages of Hebrew National beef actually exhibited the alleged non-kosher defect, the consumers lack Article III standing to sue ConAgra. Accepting the consumers’ various allegations, it remains entirely possible, maybe probable, that the packages of beef they personally purchased and consumed met the “strict” standards advertised by ConAgra..... [I]t is pure speculation to say the particular packages sold to the consumers were tainted by non-kosher beef, while it is quite plausible ConAgra sold the consumers exactly what was promised: a higher quality, kosher meat product. Time and again the Supreme Court has reminded lower courts that speculation and conjecture are not injuries cognizable under Article III.
However, instead of dismissing the case for lack of standing, the 8th Circuit ordered that the district court return it to the Minnesota state court where it originated before it was removed to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act. Chicago Tribune reports on the decision.