Filippo Berio Consumers Receive Payout of 50 Cents Per Bottle to End Lawsuit

Certified consumers of Filippo Berio olive oil who said they were misled into buying olive oil 'Imported from Italy' will receive a payout of 50 cents per bottle, but the plaintiff's attorneys may ask the court for up to $1 million in fees.

Jan. 20, 2017
By Stav Dimitropoulos

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A group of con­sumers who claimed they were mis­led when buy­ing Filippo Berio olive oil that car­ried Imported From Italy’ labels asked a California fed­eral court this week to give ini­tial approval to a pre­lim­i­nary set­tle­ment with the brand’s importers, Salov North America Corp and Italfoods, Inc. 

New-Jersey-based Filippo Berio is the third-largest olive oil brand in the United States, with sales of $137.4 mil­lion in 2015.
See Also: Salov North America Class Action
Under the terms of the pro­posal, the cer­ti­fied class mem­bers will receive a pay­out of just 50 cents for each bot­tle of olive oil they pur­chased, while the plain­tiff’s attor­neys may ask the court for up to $1 mil­lion in attor­neys fees from Filippo Berio, as stated in the pro­posed order. 

On May 23, 2014 a 29-page law­suit was filed against Salov. The lead plain­tiff was a Californian woman, Rohini Kumar, who alleged that Salov com­mit­ted fraud by mak­ing mis­lead­ing claims that Filippo Berio olive oil was imported from Italy on the front of the label of the oil, while small print on the back of the label indi­cated that some olives were grown and pressed in other coun­tries (Tunisa, Greece and Spain). 

According to the com­plaint, the Imported from Italy” state­ment on the label was a clear vio­la­tion of the busi­ness prac­tices of the 1930 Tariff Act, 19 U.S.C. § 1304(a).

Kumar ini­ti­ated a class action suit against Salov in the Northern District Federal Court of California in July 2014. In the same class action suit, Kumar also argued that Salov com­mit­ted fraud by deceiv­ing cus­tomers into believ­ing the oil was extra vir­gin. It once may have been extra vir­gin, the com­plaint stated, but it would have degen­er­ated by the time it reached the con­sumer due to hav­ing been pack­aged in clear bot­tles that caused oxi­diza­tion when exposed to sunlight. 

Next, Salov dis­missed Kumar’s claims by fil­ing a three­fold motion. The first claim that Kumar lacked stand­ing to bring the action was rejected by the Court on February 3, 2015. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers stated: The pos­si­bil­ity of future injury is alleged suf­fi­ciently if the plain­tiff would encounter the same state­ments today and could not be any more con­fi­dent that they were true.” 

Salov’s sec­ond claim that Kumar had no stand­ing to use the extra-vir­gin fraud claim because she failed to show injury in fact, was also rejected. The Judge decided that Kumar needed not prove that the par­tic­u­lar bot­tle of oil she pur­chased had, in fact, degraded to the point of not being extra vir­gin,” and quoted Judge Seeborg in a sim­i­lar case: Each con­sumer who pur­chases extra vir­gin olive oil is enti­tled to receive oil that meets that def­i­n­i­tion by design, not by happenstance.” 

The Court went on to reject Salov’s third claim that Kumar lacked stand­ing because she bought only one prod­uct and brought claims against a wide array of prod­ucts. This is a mat­ter to be con­sid­ered at the class cer­ti­fi­ca­tion stage, not the plead­ing stage,” ruled the Court. 

Finally, the Court found ade­quate mis­con­duct specifics for the plead­ing stage, though it decided in Salov’s favor that there was no breach of con­tract and that Kumar’s claim of breach of covenant of good faith and fair deal­ing was insuf­fi­ciently pleaded. 

Fast for­ward to January 2016, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers allowed Kumar to drop her claims per­tain­ing to the pro­duc­t’s sup­posed extra vir­gin” qual­ity and, instead, to empha­size its Imported from Italy’ labels. 

Two months later, how­ever, in a state­ment say­ing that Kumar lacked suf­fi­cient proof that she had even bought a bot­tle of Filippo Berio, Salov made a motion to dis­miss the class action law­suit, which was fol­lowed by a motion by the plaintiff. 

In the same motion, Salov stated both con­sumers and Kumar lacked evi­dence they had mis­in­ter­preted Imported from Italy’ to mean that the Filippo Berio olive oil was only made from Italian olives, as the dic­tio­nary defines imported” as also shipped out of.” 

To back this claim, Salov pointed to a state­ment at the back of the olive oil bot­tles near the best by” date, which was a dis­claimer reveal­ing that the olive oil orig­i­nated from dif­fer­ent countries. 

The Judge then said class mem­bers could sub­mit proof of pur­chase on a class action Claim Form Affidavit. 

Salov also claimed Kumar’s hon­esty and cred­i­bil­ity were at stake due to her drunken dri­ving con­vic­tion and acquain­tance with an attor­ney from the firm rep­re­sent­ing her in this case. 

Judge Gonzalez Rogers ruled that both the drunken dri­ving charges and her per­sonal friend­ship with an attor­ney were irrel­e­vant to the present case. 

In the sum­mer of 2016, Judge Rogers even­tu­ally cer­ti­fied the Filippo Berio con­sumers who pur­chased olive oil of any grade between May 2010 and June 2015 (the Judge did not cer­tify a spe­cific organic vari­ety). Upon cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, the com­pany and class mem­bers took the suit to medi­a­tion, where they laid out the terms that would lead to set­tle­ments. These stated that the com­pany ought to remove Imported From Italy” from its labels and write just Imported,’ while Salov agreed not to use the Imported from Italy’ on its labels for a min­i­mum of three years. 

So, for the time being, each mem­ber of the set­tle­ment class can sub­mit a claim for 50 cents per Filippo Berio prod­uct pur­chased, with a guar­an­teed min­i­mum of $2 worth of valid claims, whereas mem­bers must pro­duce proof of pur­chase for prod­ucts amount­ing to more than $5.

On the other hand, Kumar’s attor­neys may receive approx­i­mately $982,500 from Salov for attor­neys’ fees, in keep­ing with the pro­posed order.


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