A federal judge recently held that a plaintiff cannot state a claim for false advertising under Illinois law by cherry picking statements in isolation if, on the whole, the information available to plaintiff dispelled the alleged deception. On April 6, 2018, the Northern District of Illinois dismissed a proposed class action that unsuccessfully claimed that a fast food restaurant and an Illinois franchisee had misrepresented the value of certain value meals. The proposed class action, filed in Illinois in 2016, was one of hundreds of cases filed that year alone in a recent surge in food consumer class action litigation.
According to a recent report by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, food marketing class actions increased from about 20 in 2008 to over 425 active cases in federal courts in 2015 and 2016. During this same two-year period, Illinois ranked as a favorite of the class action bar by hosting the fourth largest number of food class actions in federal courts and only trailed California, New York and Florida.
Plaintiff filed a class action complaint against a fast food restaurant and its franchisee alleging that certain value meals were not a good value because consumers could have purchased the meal items separately at a lower cost than the bundled meal. Plaintiff claimed that marketing the meals as “values” suggests that the meals cost less than ordering each item individually. Plaintiff therefore argued that labeling such meals as value meals was false, deceptive, and misleading in violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.
Judge Elaine Bucklo rejected Plaintiff’s claims. She held that, under Illinois law, consumers who simply don’t bother to compare prices easily visible at the point of purchase cannot claim they have been misled. Judge Bucklo reasoned that, although Plaintiff’s argument had “superficial appeal,” she and the consumers she sought to represent had all the information necessary to compare prices. Judge Bucklo noted that, if Plaintiff had “take[n] the time to compare prices,” she would have realized that she could have saved a few cents by purchasing the items individually.
In holding that there could be “no possibility for deception,” Judge Bucklo relied on a line of cases dismissing similar claims where plaintiff consumers received all the information they needed to make an informed purchasing decision. Judge Bucklo distinguished the fast food restaurant’s prominent display of all prices near the chain’s registers from situations where “consumers would have to consult an ingredients list or other fine print to determine whether prominent images or labels a defendant uses in connection with its product accurately reflect the product’s true nature or quality.”
The court’s decision is a victory for food chains and other restaurants. Restaurants and retailers should consider prominently displaying all information necessary to evaluate pricing claims in advertisements or at the point of purchase.