In recent years, sellers of consumer products have faced countless class action lawsuits alleging that their products are misleadingly advertised. Many motions to dismiss often turn on whether the product’s advertising is misleading to a reasonable consumer. But in Valiente v. Publix Super Markets, Inc., 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91089 (S.D. Fla. May 24, 2023), the court took a different tack, dismissing a false advertising claim on Article III standing grounds because the defendant’s “money-back guarantee” effectively mooted the plaintiff’s claim for monetary damages.
The plaintiff in Valiente alleged that the packaging on Publix’s “honey-lemon” cough drops misled him into believing that (1) the product contained a “non-negligible” amount of lemon ingredients, and (2) the product “soothes” the bronchial passages. Seeking monetary damages, the plaintiff claimed that he paid more for the product than he otherwise would have had the product been accurately labeled. The plaintiff also sought injunctive relief, claiming that the mislabeling will affect his ability to rely on similar labels in the future.
In dismissing these claims, the court focused on the plaintiff’s lack of standing. Addressing the damages claim, the court honed in on Publix’s “money-back guarantee,” which grants customers a full refund for items they’re not satisfied with, no questions asked. In the court’s view, the “money-back guarantee” effectively mooted the plaintiff’s damages claim, as he could have simply requested a full refund if he was unsatisfied with the product after purchasing it. Because the plaintiff did not allege that he was unable to obtain a refund under the policy, the court concluded that the plaintiff did not suffer an injury-in-fact to support his claim for monetary damages.
As for the injunctive relief claim, the court focused on the fact that the plaintiff is presently aware of what the product’s label means, and thus there is little concern that he will be tricked by the same label again. Indeed, the plaintiff himself claimed he would not purchase the product until the label was changed. For this reason, the plaintiff lacked Article III standing to bring a claim for injunctive relief.
While false advertising cases often turn on whether the product’s label is misleading to reasonable consumers, the district court’s decision in Valiente demonstrates that Article III standing is another viable argument that sellers of consumer products should consider when combating these claims—particularly when they offer a money-back guarantee to their customers.