Kroger Co. and California consumers have obtained conditional prior approval from a federal court of an $ 801,000 settlement resolving allegations the grocery chain deceptively marketed breadcrumbs as having “0”. g trans fat per serving ”when made with partially hydrogenated oil, a type of trans fat.
The terms appear fair, but the parties must submit a revised plan to notify class members of the settlement, Judge Jeffrey T. Miller of the US District Court for the Southern District of California said on July 2.
The judge said he was not convinced the proposed notice, mainly via Facebook ads and a newspaper post, would reach members of the group.
Kroger agreed to create a fund of $ 780,000 to notify and pay class members and to make a separate one-time payment of $ 21,000 to the American Heart Association.
Separately, plaintiffs’ attorneys can claim up to $ 400,000 in fees and expenses and
an incentive prize of up to $ 7,000 for principal plaintiff Shavonda Hawkins.
The court approved the proposed costs request as a “reasonable upper limit” on a preliminary basis.
But he warned that the settlement structure could have allowed Kroger to negotiate high fees with plaintiffs’ attorneys in exchange for attorneys accepting an unfair settlement on behalf of the group.
Here the maximum amount of legal fees as a percentage of the fund far exceeds the typical benchmark of 25%, Kroger has agreed not to object and Kroger will keep the difference if the court ultimately awards less than the amount requested, Miller said.
Class attorneys must submit detailed information to support their motion for attorney fees, including complete billing records and an explanation of their hourly rates, the court said.
Concerns about collusion between company attorneys and plaintiffs have derailed recent settlements in lawsuits over General Mills fruit snacks and Wesson oil.
In 2020, the court certified a class of California citizens who purchased affected breadcrumbs between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2015. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected the offer of Kroger for a quick call.
In January, the district court allowed most of Hawkins’ claims to proceed.
Trans fats have been linked to a variety of health problems. The Food and Drug Administration said in June 2015 that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer “generally recognized as safe” and gave the industry three years to phase out trans fats from foods. The deadline of June 18, 2018 was then extended by two years.
Weston Firm PC represented Hawkins. Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and TroyGould PC represented Kroger.
The case is Hawkins v. Kroger Co., SD Cal., # 3: 15-cv-02320, 7/2/21.