Class Action Over "Naturally Raised" Claims

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A nationwide putative class action was filed against Chipotle on June 26, 2012 at the United States District Court for the Central District of California. The Case Number is CV12-05543.

The lawsuit contains the following allegations:

1. CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC. boasts that it serves “food with integrity,” which includes serving meat from only “naturally raised” animals. Chipotle defines “naturally raised” as follows: “[n]aturally raised animals are raised in a humane way, fed a vegetarian diet, never given hormones, and [are] allowed to display their natural tendencies.” Due to false and deceptive business practices and representations, CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC. has misled the general public into believing that all of the beef and chicken served in its restaurants come from “naturally raised animals,” when in fact, CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC. also serves beef and chicken that comes from “conventionally raised” animals.
2. This case is brought on behalf of a national class of consumers who at any time during the period of four years preceding the filing of this Complaint to the present (the proposed “Class Period”) have purchased and/or consumed meat (i.e. chicken and/or beef) from or at a CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC. restaurant. In Defendants’ restaurants, Defendants shamelessly and broadly advertise that they serve meat exclusively from “naturally raised” animals as part of Defendants’ mass in-store advertising campaign despite the fact that Defendants, on their website, in various Annual Reports, and in other publications, admit that CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC. restaurants are unable to exclusively or consistently serve meat from “naturally raised” animals.
3. Since Defendants began their “naturally raised” advertising campaign in CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC. restaurants and throughout the Class Period, Defendants have failed to reasonably, equitably, justly, or adequately inform consumers that the meat served in Defendants’ restaurants comes partially or entirely from animals that were “conventionally raised.” In Defendants’ 2011 Annual Report, Defendants define “naturally raised” meat as “…coming from animals that are never given antibiotics or added hormones and that are raised responsibly—that is, in accordance with our animal welfare standards.” In contrast, meat from “conventionally raised” animals consists of meat from an animal not raised according to Defendants’ own “naturally raised” standard. When meat comes from a “conventionally raised” animal, it means that the animal was treated with antibiotics, artificially supplied with hormones, and/or subjected to cruel treatment. In its CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC. restaurants nationwide, Defendants charge customers a premium price for chicken and beef by representing that the chicken and beef comes from animals that are free of antibiotics, hormones, and/or cruel treatment.
4. Due to false and deceptive business practices and representations, CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC. has misled the general public into believing that the meat offered at CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC. restaurants comes entirely from “naturally raised” animals. Defendants’ mass in-store advertising campaign fails to disclose to customers that the meat served in Defendants’ restaurants comes partially or entirely from “conventionally raised” chicken and/or beef. Further, Defendants’ in-store advertising campaign fails to apprise the general public that Defendants’ claims about serving meat exclusively from “naturally raised” animals is merely aspirational.
5. For example, in Defendants’ 2011 Annual Report, Defendants admit “Some of our restaurants served conventionally raised chicken or steak for much of 2011, a few markets reverted to conventionally raised beef in early 2012, and more of our restaurants may periodically serve conventionally raised meats in the future due to supply constraints.” See Exhibit 1. Furthermore, Defendants’ website states, “We are working diligently with all of our suppliers so we can return to serving 100% naturally raised chicken.” See Exhibit 3. Despite these admissions, Defendants continue to advertise in CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC. restaurants that the meat served comes entirely from “naturally raised” animals, thereby continuing to profit off of their false and deceptive marketing campaign.
6. In light of the misrepresentation inherent in Defendants’ “naturally raised” in-store advertising campaign, a reasonably prudent consumer would certainly not expect that some or all of the meat served by Defendants came from “conventionally raised” animals, nor would a reasonably prudent consumer expect that whether a specific batch of meat served by Defendants actually came from “naturally raised” animals depended on economic forces. As a result of disseminating this false, deceptive, and misleading advertising campaign during the proposed Class Period, Defendants were able to sell meat from “conventionally raised” animals to thousands of unsuspecting consumers throughout the United States and profited greatly from these transactions. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants’ conduct constitutes common law fraud, breach of express warranty, intentional misrepresentation, and negligent misrepresentation. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants’ conduct violates the unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent prongs of California’s Unfair Competition Law (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200. et seq.), the California Business & Professions Code §17500, et seq., and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (Cal. Civ. Code §1750, et seq.).
7. Plaintiff seeks compensatory, restitution, declaratory and injunctive relief based upon Defendants’ conduct asserted in this Complaint. As of the date on this Complaint, Defendants’ restaurants in the United States contain advertisements and information that represent the meat served in Defendants’ restaurants as coming entirely from “naturally raised” animals, even though Defendants elsewhere admit that Defendants regularly serve meat from “conventionally raised” animals. Accordingly, Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to ensure that Defendants remove any and all of the “naturally raised” representations from Defendants’ restaurants, as long as Defendants continue to serve meat from “conventionally raised” animals.