A federal judge has ruled that the North American Olive Oil Association may sue Veronica Foods on its own behalf, but not on behalf of its members. An attorney for Veronica Foods has again filed a motion to dismiss the case.
A federal judge in a Long Island District Court has ruled to partially reinstate a lawsuit filed against Veronica Foods and seven of its associated retailers by the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), a trade group that represents olive oil importers.
Consumers should not be misled into thinking they have to buy super-expensive olive oils from a specialty store to get health benefits.
Veronica Foods supplies olive oils to hundreds of specialty retails shops throughout the U.S. where oils are displayed in stainless containers, called fusti, and customers are invited to taste oils before they make a purchase.
“We are pleased with this decision, and it reaffirms the NAOOA’s commitment to take on those in our industry who unfairly and inaccurately disparage others in the category to gain a competitive advantage,” Joseph R Profaci, executive director of the NAOOA, said in a press release.
“We also believe that the circumstances of the case should permit the NAOOA to sue on behalf of its members who are damaged by such misrepresentations, and we are considering how best to respond to the court’s decision to the contrary on that issue,” he added.
Arthur Spatt, the judge presiding over the case, overturned parts of his original decision after the NAOOA argued that the court had overlooked facts in the complaint that allege the trade association has standing to sue on its own behalf.
“In the instant case, NAOOA […] claims that it may sue on its own behalf because it has spent considerable financial resources to combat misrepresentation from the Defendants’ alleged false advertising and disparaging statements,” Spatt wrote in his decision. “In the Court’s view, these allegations are sufficient to establish an association’s individual standing.”
However, Spatt reaffirmed that the NAOOA failed to prove that any of its individual members had experienced tangible losses due to the claims made by Veronica Foods and also failed to prove that the association has legal standing to recuperate losses for its members.
Profaci told Olive Oil Times that he disagreed with the judge’s decision for these latter two points and planned to go ahead with the suit.
“We don’t agree with the judge’s decision not to recognize associational standing on behalf of NAOOA’s members,” he said. “This is a legal question, and our counselors have told us that they believe we have met the legal standard.”
He declined to comment any further about the case while the litigation is pending.
Adam Gutride, Veronica Foods’ attorney, told Olive Oil Times that he is disappointed by the judge’s ruling and plans to continue fighting the matter on his client’s behalf.
“The court ruled that NAOOA has passed one technical hurdle of showing standing to sue, but only for a portion of the case,” he said. “We already moved to dismiss the case on other grounds that the Court has not yet considered. The Court agreed to address that motion after NAOOA dismisses its appeal.”
The complaint was originally filed in 2016 against Veronica Foods and several of its New York-based retailer for what the NAOOA claimed were false, misleading and scientifically unsubstantiated comments the company had made about olive oil sold in supermarkets.
“We are very supportive of efforts to market high-quality extra virgin olive oils, but consumers should not be misled into thinking they have to buy super-expensive olive oils from a specialty store to get health benefits,” Profaci said. “Consumers should be confident in the quality of the vast majority of olive oil being sold in the U.S. retail market, including their local supermarkets.”
The NAOOA went on to accuse Veronica Foods of “a targeted and concerted effort to attack the NAOOA and its members’ olive oil products sold in supermarkets.”
Veronica Foods has denied these claims.
“Our company has been built on importing and selling the highest quality extra virgin olive oils,” Gutride said. “Our core mission is to offer the consumer transparency, traceability and education in an often confusing market.”
Last November the lawsuit was dismissed by Spatt, the same federal judge, after the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case was granted. The defendants asserted that the NAOOA had not sufficiently proven that its members had suffered injury due to the defendants’ claims.
Gutride said that Veronica Foods had already refiled their motion to dismiss the case, well before the 30-day deadline granted by the court.
“We intend to continue to fight the matter,” Gutride said.