A California court granted Tauler Smith LLP’s motion to dismiss without leave to amend in a deceptive pricing class action alleging mislabeling of THC potency. The plaintiffs specifically alleged that the cannabinoid content in the defendant’s infused joints did not match what was on label. Tauler Smith’s skilled Los Angeles class action defense attorneys filed a demurrer to the class action based on the discrepancy between the plaintiffs’ purchases and the potency tests that formed the basis of plaintiffs’ claims.
To learn more about Tauler Smith’s latest legal victory, keep reading this blog.
California Consumer Laws on Cannabis Advertising and THC Content
Recreational marijuana is a multi-billion-dollar business in the states where it is legal, which includes California. In fact, it is estimated that California is the largest cannabis market in the world. Although there are no clear federal regulations of cannabis sales, California agencies do regulate marijuana product sales within the state. For example, the California Department of Cannabis Control allows just a 10% margin of error for THC content listed on product packaging and labels. If the THC potency amount listed on the package is not close enough to the THC potency amount of the actual product, then a court may find that the company selling the products engaged in false advertising.
One reason that cannabis product labels may promise higher potency is that consumers are typically willing to pay more for weed with a stronger concentration of THC, which stands for Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Marijuana with a higher percentage of THC can deliver a more euphoric “high” for users.
Class Action Lawsuit: Ayala v. Central Coast Agriculture
Central Coast Agriculture is a California-based progressive farm that focuses on sustainability. The company is also a licensed cannabis cultivator, and some of its products are sold under the Raw Garden brand name. According to the original complaint against Central Coast Agriculture, the consumer-plaintiffs purchased two products: a Raw Garden Infused Joints three-pack in the “Sunset Cookies” strain, and Raw Garden Infused Joints in the “Caribbean Slurm” strain. The plaintiffs alleged that the marijuana products were mislabeled because the amount of THC contained in the products was substantially lower than the amount stated on the packaging: 25 percent THC potency versus 44 percent THC potency.
The plaintiffs in Ayala et al. v. Central Coast Agriculture, Inc. filed a class action lawsuit under a number of consumer protection statutes, including the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL), and the California False Advertising Law. The case was heard in the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara, and the Honorable Theodore C. Zayner ruled on the litigants’ pre-trial motions.
Tauler Smith LLP Wins Defense Demurrer in Class Action Lawsuit
A demurrer is a legal challenge to a specific claim made in court, much like a motion to dismiss in federal court. When determining whether to grant a demurrer, courts will typically assume that all the facts alleged in the pleading are true, no matter how improbable they might be. If the plaintiff’s case is still unlikely to succeed even under these circumstances, then the motion for demurrer may be granted by the court.
The defendant in Ayala v. Central Coast Agriculture was represented by Los Angeles law firm Tauler Smith LLP. Our class action defense attorneys demurred to all causes of action in the case because the plaintiffs failed to allege sufficient facts. Specifically, the defense attorneys objected because the plaintiffs were unable to sufficiently demonstrate that the marijuana products purchased actually contained less THC than the amount listed on the product labels.
California Class Action Defense Lawyers Win THC Potency Case
The Santa Clara Superior Court sustained defense counsel’s demurrers on every cause of action in the case, which represented another huge pre-trial victory for the Tauler Smith LLP law firm. Moreover, the court held that the legal arguments were so overwhelmingly in favor of the defendant that the plaintiffs should have no leave to amend their complaint. In other words, the plaintiffs’ complaint was dismissed entirely.
In its ruling, the court held that the plaintiffs’ class action complaint relied on several faulty assumptions about the products they purchased, as well as the lab results cited in the lawsuit:
- Testing was done too late. The court noted that the THC lab tests were conducted roughly two (2) months after the original purchases, which cast serious doubt on how relevant the tests might be in the case. The court further noted that there was nothing in the plaintiffs’ lawsuit about when the joints tested by the WeedWeek researchers were produced or sold. This meant that the plaintiffs had no way of knowing how long the products were on the shelves before being tested.
- Not the same products. The court also said that the plaintiffs failed to show that the joints tested by WeedWeek were the same as the products at issue in the lawsuit. There was no evidence that any lab tests were conducted on the particular “Sunset Cookies” strain of marijuana purchased by one of the plaintiffs. (The plaintiffs suggested that a “Fire Walker” THC product tested by researchers was “substantially similar” to the “Sunset Cookies” strain, but the court rejected this argument.) Beyond that, only a single pre-rolled joint of the “Caribbean Slurm” strain was tested, which was an insufficient analog of the particular product purchased by the other plaintiff. Even the WeedWeek article authors characterized their testing as an “imperfect experiment” with conclusions that do not necessarily apply to any individual brand, company, or product.
- No information on product labeling. The court stated that there was zero information about the labelling of the products tested by the lab researchers and cited by the plaintiffs. This meant that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the THC amounts listed on the packages they purchased were the same as the THC amounts listed on the packages of the products being tested.
- Failed to account for testing variables. The court noted other problems with the laboratory test results referenced by the plaintiff in their lawsuit, including the failure of the testers to account for significant variables. For example, there was no information about the products’ temperature exposure, the potential for testers’ bias, or the possibility of human error.
- No injury or harm suffered by plaintiffs. The court found that since the plaintiffs failed to show that the marijuana products purchased actually contained less THC than was listed on the product labels, they could not establish that they sustained any injury or damage as a result of their purchases.
The Santa Clara Superior Court held that there was no clear connection between the lab testing results and the plaintiffs’ actual purchases. The testing results could not be applied to the Raw Garden marijuana joints purchased by the plaintiffs because the tests were conducted on different products at different times by different entities using different methods for different purposes. This was a clear and decisive victory for both the defendant and the Tauler Smith LLP litigation team. The legal win was even more impressive because the consumer protection statutes relied on by the plaintiffs tend to be interpreted broadly by California courts and often in favor of plaintiffs.
You Need to Hire the Right Lawyer for Your Consumer Class Action Defense
When ruling on the demurrer in Ayala et al. v. Central Coast Agriculture, Inc., the court concluded that the lab tests relied on by the plaintiffs were insufficient to draw an inference that the products at issue were inaccurately labeled. This was in stark contrast to the ruling in another false advertising case.
Two other consumers recently sued a different California marijuana company, DreamFields Brands, Inc. That class action complaint, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleged similar facts: that the plaintiffs purchased pre-rolled joints containing a lower percentage of THC than declared on the product packaging. Additionally, the class action lawsuit cited the same independent lab tests performed by WeedWeek. The defendant in that lawsuit was represented by a different law firm, and those lawyers were unsuccessful in getting the case dismissed.
The dissimilar results in these cases should make one thing abundantly clear: hiring the right lawyer to represent you in your class action defense could be the difference between winning and losing.
Contact the California Class Action Defense Lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP
Class action lawsuits filed in California courts are notoriously complicated, particularly when they involve consumer protection claims. That’s why it is imperative that defendants in these cases be represented by the experienced California class action defense lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP. Our litigation team has extensive experience representing defendants in false advertising cases, including both private civil actions and class actions.