Lawsuits Over Parmesan Cheese Fillers Centralized in Federal Court
With dozens of lawsuits pending throughout the United States alleging that Parmesan cheese products were sold with fillers containing wood pulp and other materials, a panel of federal judges has decided to consolidated the claims before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multi-district litigation.
There are currently more than 50 Parmesan cheese lawsuits pending in U.S. District Courts nationwide, including claims against companies like Wal-Mart, Kraft and other manufacturers. Each of the complaints raise similar allegations that the contents of “100% grated Parmesan” products were misrepresented, and actually contain wood pulp and other fillers.
In March, a motion to transfer was filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) seeking to consolidate the cases for coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings to reduce duplicative discovery, prevent contradictory rulings by different judges, and to serve the convenience of the court, parties and witnesses.
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Following oral arguments late last month, the JPML issued a transfer order (PDF) on June 2, calling for all of the cases to be centralized in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, before District Judge Gary Feinerman.
“In our judgment, a single, multi-product MDL is necessary to ensure the just and efficient conduct of this litigation,” the panel wrote. “In many situations, we are hesitant to bring together actions involving separate defendants and products, but when, as here, there is significant overlap in the central factual issues, parties, and claims, we find that creation of a single MDL is warranted.”
Grated Parmesan Cheese Filler Complaints
The cases stem from a recent FDA investigation into the use of wood pulp and other fillers in grated Parmesan cheese products sold to major food chains, with some brands found to contain no Parmesan cheese at all.
The president of Castle Cheese, Michelle Myrter, plead guilty to charges that her company mislabeled grated Parmesan and Romano cheese in late February, as well as the companies Slippery Rock and Universal Cheese and Drying. She could face up to a year in prison and $100,000 in fines.
Products Castle Cheese sold to Target under the Market Pantry brand, labeled as 100% Parmesan Cheese, actually contained no Parmesan at all, the FDA found. And neither did its Best Choice or Always Save brands, which were sold to 3,400 retail stores in 30 states. They contained other cheeses, such as Swiss and mozzarella, and cellulose, a form of wood pulp used as filler.
High amounts of cellulose were also found in brands sold at Wal-Mart and other chain stores.
The cases will be transferred from U.S. District Courts throughout the country for coordinated management. However, if settlements or another resolution is not reached during the pretrial proceedings, each case may ultimately be remanded back to the courts where they were originally filed for separate trial dates in the future.
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