Olive Oil Importer Can't Escape Class Action Over Quality

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A California federal judge on Tuesday denied a motion to dismiss a putative class action accusing the importer of Bertolli- and Carapelli-brand olive oils of deceiving consumers about its products’ quality, saying the claims were sufficient to pass muster at this stage.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg found that plaintiff Scott Koller’s allegations against Deoleo USA Inc. — that labeling the oils as “extra virgin” is misleading because they are actually mixed with refined oil, and that the bottle containing the oil is insufficient to protect it from heat and sunlight degradation — are enough to state his claim that a $12 bottle of Bertolli extra virgin olive oil he had purchased didn’t meet the applicable quality standards.

The judge said that while Koller was required to plead sufficient facts to support his case, he wasn’t required at this stage to include evidence that would prove the case.

Judge Seeborg likewise declined to dismiss Koller’s allegations stemming from the front labeling on the oils in question, which state that the products are “Imported from Italy.” He rejected Deoleo’s arguments that Koller couldn’t have been misled because the back label clearly indicates the oil’s different countries of origin, concluding that even if Koller had seen the back label, he might not necessarily have seen the information about the olives’ origin.

Nor would Koller have been required to test the particular bottle of olive oil he had purchased to see whether it would meet the definition of “extra virgin” when he purchased it, Judge Seeborg said. As long as he can prove that the oil generally did not meet the standard, it wouldn’t matter whether some bottles of the oil had or had not met that same standard, the judge concluded.

“In the event Koller is able to prove his allegations that the oil generally does not warrant that label because of its quality when first bottled and/or because of Deoleo’s packaging and handling practices, it would hardly be a defense that some bottles may nevertheless meet the minimum standards when purchased,” Judge Seeborg wrote.

Koller’s claims were sufficient to meet the heightened standard for pleading fraud and to support a claim under the “unlawful” prong of the state’s Unfair Competition Law, the judge said.

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