On March 7, 2012, in the Del Monte Fresh Pineapple Cases, the California Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court decision that refused to certify a class of indirect purchasers [consumers] of pineapples. The class-action complaint alleged monopolizing conduct by Del Monte in connection with its allegedly improper prosecution and enforcement of an extra-sweet pineapple patent, in violation of the California Unfair Competition Law.
In the appeal, the plaintiffs challenged the trial court’s conclusion that substantial individual questions would have to be resolved to establish injury to class members who purchased pineapples from different direct purchasers in different competitive markets. They also challenged the trial court’s conclusion that it would be “difficult, if not impossible, to identify the specific persons who purchased Del Monte extra sweet pineapples during the class period,” and that even if they could be identified, “the administrative costs of identifying the class members and returning a few dollars to each would significantly outweigh the value of the distribution itself.” (Slip op. at 5, 8.)
The appellate court found no error in the trial court’s conclusion that “a class of indirect purchasers would be neither manageable nor superior to alternative methods.” (Slip op. at 7.) The appellate court also rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that the trial court misinterpreted the concept of a “cy pres” distribution, impermissibly treated the class certification motion as a motion for summary judgment, and improperly relied on the pendency of a federal court direct purchasers’ antitrust class action against Del Monte (later dismissed on its merits) based on the same alleged patent-related misconduct.