IMPORTANT FIRST AMENDMENT PROTECTIONS AFFIRMED
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 22, 2015
CONTACT: Andy Resnick
WASHINGTON, DC – A federal judge in Los Angeles issued an order upholding important First Amendment protections in favor of the Corn Refiners Association (“CRA”) and its members, thereby narrowing the sugar industry plaintiffs’ alleged false advertising claims in the Western Sugar Cooperative, et al. v. Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, et al. litigation. Rejecting sugar industry efforts to dismiss the Corn Refiners’ counterclaim against the Sugar Association, the sugar industry trade association, the judge also advanced the counterclaim to a jury trial scheduled for November 2015.
In a written order following her denial of the parties’ motions for summary judgment, U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall affirmed First Amendment protection for statements incidental to the CRA’s “Citizen’s Petition” to the FDA, which sought permission for high fructose corn syrup (“HFCS”) to be identified by the alternate name “corn sugar” on ingredient labels. Although the sugar industry plaintiffs claimed the Corn Refiners’ use of “corn sugar” to describe HFCS constituted false advertising, the Court narrowed that claim, finding numerous statements were incidental to the Corn Refiners’ lawful petitioning activity and protected by the First Amendment under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine.
The Court also rejected the Sugar Association’s efforts to avoid a jury trial on the HFCS counterclaim by invoking similar First Amendment protections. The Court agreed with the Corn Refiners that the Sugar Association should stand trial for its alleged false and misleading statements about HFCS, finding that the Sugar Association “had a clear economic motive for distributing the Articles [about HFCS]—to promote the consumption (and thereby) sales of sugar.”
Finally, the Court’s order allows the sugar industry plaintiffs to invoke a rebuttable presumption at trial that they were injured by the CRA’s alleged false advertising because of its “comparative” nature. However, the Corn Refiners will be permitted to rebut that presumption at trial, including with evidence that the sugar industry plaintiffs actually enjoyed record-breaking financial performance throughout the alleged false advertising campaign and suffered no losses as a result.
John Bode, president of the CRA, said, “We are heartened that the Court affirmed the important First Amendment protection afforded to our Citizen’s Petition and related efforts. We look forward to proving our counterclaim that the Sugar Association has purposely misled the public to create false health concerns and fear about HFCS—all for the precise economic motive identified by the Court. Although we are disappointed that the sugar industry plaintiffs will be allowed to cling to a rebuttable presumption of injury at trial, we accept that ruling and are confident that a jury will find that presumption easily rebutted by the actual evidence. We look forward to presenting our case to the jury at the trial in November.”
The Corn Refiners Association (CRA) is the national trade association representing the corn refining industry of the United States. CRA and its predecessors have served this important segment of American agribusiness since 1913. Corn refiners manufacture sweeteners, ethanol, starch, bioproducts, corn oil and feed products from corn components such as starch, oil, protein and fiber. www.Corn.org