The plaintiff brought this class action alleging that Whole Foods systematically overstated the weights of pre-packaged food products and overcharged customers as a result. The products are prepackaged cheeses, cupcakes, the items weighed add priced prior to shelving – where the prices is based on the weight of the food. The complaint had cited a 2015 press release from the New York Dept. of Consumer affairs stating that the Department had uncovered overcharging of foods at Whole Foods based on deviations in the stated weight and the actual weight and the actual weight measured by the department that were outside the federally allowed standard deviation. The class action sought redress for alleged overcharging based on weight under theories of unjust enrichment and some New York consumer laws.
The federal district court dismissed the claims finding that the plaintiff failed to allege sufficient injury in fact. The court held that the complaint failed to allege that the named plaintiff had been personally overcharged and also stated that even if it had found that the plaintiff had standing, it would still dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim… so the plaintiff appealed. Which makes sense because the complaint alleges people got cheated through fraudulent statements made on packaging and the federal district court basically disregarded that.
In reversing, the Second Circuit found that the complaint did properly allege an injury in fact (an invasion of a legally protected interest that is concrete and particularized and actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical). (You can read the opinion here). The district court had found that although the article had said that the New York department had found that 89% of all the packages tested by the department failed to satisfy the federal standard, the complaint failed to adequately allege that the plaintiff had personally overpaid for any “specific” purchase. The appellate court disagreed and found that combined with the article’s statements about the systematic overcharging the complaint sufficiently alleged facts that amounted to an injury. Noting that the plaintiff may “ultimately be unable to show he was injured under the more demanding standards applicable at summary judgment or trial”:
For present purposes, John has plausibly alleged a nontrivial economic injury sufficient to support standing: according to the DCA’s investigation, Whole Foods packages of cheese and cupcakes were systematically and routinely mislabeled and overpriced, and John regularly purchased Whole Foods packages of cheese and cupcakes throughout the relevant period. Taking these allegations as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor, it is plausible that John overpaid for at least one product. John’s complaint thus satisfies the “low threshold” required to plead injury in fact.
The reversal was premised on the fact that pleading the frequency of his purchases and the systematic overcharging of pre-packaged foods at the stores he patronized was sufficient to allege that he suffered an injury (probably).