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A representative plaintiff plausibly alleged false advertising claims based on his mistaken belief that Target’s “White Baking Morsels” had white chocolate in them

California

,

United States

In Salazar v. Target Corp., E076001 (Cal. Ct. App. September 19, 2022), the plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit against Target for false advertising under the Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”), False Advertising Law (“FAL”), and Consumers Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”) after he bought Target’s White Baking Morsels incorrectly thinking they contained white chocolate. The trial court sustained Target’s demurrers without leave to amend. The plaintiff appealed.

The reasonable consumer test

The California Fourth District Court of Appeal explained that the “reasonable consumer” test governed the plaintiff’s claims. To meet the reasonable consumer standard, a plaintiff need only show that members of the public are likely to be deceived by the defendant’s advertising. As applied to this case, the test asks whether a reasonable consumer would likely be deceived into incorrectly believing that Target’s White Baking Morsels contain real white chocolate because of Target’s advertising of the product.

The price tag description differentiated this case from similar cases

Target relied on four federal district court cases that involved other “white” baking products to support its demurrer. The Court found those cases distinguishable due to Target’s price tag for the White Baking Morsels. The price tag described the morsels as “WHT CHOCO.” The Court found that, by its plain terms, “WHT CHOCO” suggested that the White Baking Morsels contained white chocolate (or, at a minimum, a reasonable consumer could be confused about this fact). 

The Court disagreed with federal court precedent

The Court expressly disagreed with the holding of Cheslow v. Ghirardelli Chocolate Co., 445 F.Supp.3d 8 (N.D. Cal. 2020). In that case, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California held that “white” in the context of baking chips could only be reasonably understood as defining the color of the food as a matter of law. The Court explained that even if Target’s product label contained no false representations, California law does not require a reasonable consumer to look beyond misleading representations on the front of a product to discover the truth from an ingredient list on the back. The Court held that because the ingredient list conflicted with the price tag representation, the plaintiff’s claims were not defeated. 

Case not appropriate for resolution on a demurrer

The Court found that whether a reasonable consumer is deceived by Target’s advertising could not be properly resolved at the pleading stage. 

Disposition

Because the plaintiff stated viable claims under the UCL, FAL, and CLRA, the Court reversed the trial court’s judgment sustaining Target’s demurrers without leave to amend.

October 24, 2022
Salazar v. Target Corp., E076001 (Cal. Ct. App. September 19, 2022)
Author: Grace Baehren
California Courts