As we noted yesterday, it’s not necessarily a given that an allegedly misleading advertising claim leads inexorably to a viable class action lawsuit (most likely venued in California.).  Here’s one such recent example as to why.

In the federal District Court in Los Angeles this past month, Chipotle Mexican Grill successfully defeated a class action plaintiff’s motion for class certification.

Chipotle advertises that its products contain “Naturally Raised” meats, meaning “coming from animals that are fed a pure vegetarian diet, never given antibiotics or hormones, and raised humanely.” And its products generally do. Occasionally, however, some Chipotle restaurants run out of their supply of such meats and substitute conventional meats. When this has occurred, those Chipotle locations have posted signs at the point-of-purchase, alerting their patrons of that fact.

Plaintiffs contended that such notice was not adequate.  However, the Court decided not to certify the class because, in its opinion, the question of whether a particular class member had seen one of the point-of-purchase signs could not be handled on a class wide basis. The same was true of the related question of whether each sign that was put in place at each location was reasonably visible or not.

The Court found that it would be too difficult to ascertain which consumers belonged and also to determine appropriate compensation.

As the Court explained, it would have to obtain claims from everyone who had eaten meat at any Chipotle restaurant during the class period, it would have to require those people to list every time that they had eaten at such a restaurant and to state the date and item purchased.  In the Court’s view, very few people would be able to do this either truthfully or accurately. As a result, “money would be given out basically at random to people who may or may not actually be entitled to restitution.” This, the Court said, would be unfair both to legitimate class members and to Chipotle.

The decision continues a recent trend of judges denying class certification on the basis of ascertainability problems.