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Catanese v. Unilever - 774 F. Supp. 2d 684 (D.N.J. 2011)


As to first-filed rule analysis, whether the cases share subject matter is more important than the absolute identity of the parties. If the first-filed rule failed to focus on the overlap of the subject matter, it might encourage rather than discourage duplicative suits because parties who are aware of pending suits but not yet party to them might seek to file suit in a more favorable forum.


Plaintiffs, Catanese et al. (“Catanese”), filed a "nationwide class action against Breyers on behalf of all persons and entities in the United States who purchased Breyers All Natural Original Ice Cream containing alkalized cocoa or Breyers Smooth & Dreamy 1/2 fat All Natural Ice Cream containing alkalized cocoa.” Alternatively, Catanese sought to represent any person or entity who purchased Breyers Ice Cream in the State of New Jersey. Catanese’s complaint alleged that the defendant Unilever misrepresented Breyers Ice Cream as "all natural," when in fact it contained alkalized cocoa powder. Catanese alleged that alkalized cocoa powder is chemically altered (making it non-natural). The chemically-altered cocoa powder (sometimes referred to as "Dutch cocoa") is "lower in the health-promoting flavanol antioxidants than natural cocoa." Catanese claimed that the United States Food and Drug Administration "recognizes alkalization as a non-natural process," and that food created using an alkali ingredient must contain an appropriate disclaimer. Unilever moved to dismiss, stay or transfer this matter pursuant to the first-filed rule. Catanese opposed the motion.


Should the case at bar be transferred in pursuant to the first-filed rule?




Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.S. § 1404(a) and the first-filed rule, the Court concluded that this matter should be transferred to the Northern District of California which was handling a different class action because both class actions had overlapping subject matter, and the other class action was filed three days before the transferred action. The transfer would promote judicial efficiency, economy, and consistency of results.

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