| NEW YORK, April 4
NEW YORK, April 4 A year after ConAgra Foods Inc
won the dismissal of a lawsuit claiming that its Hebrew
National hot dogs were not kosher, a higher authority has given
the case new life.
A federal appeals court in St. Paul, Minnesota on Friday
said a trial judge erred in dismissing the lawsuit brought by 11
consumers in its entirety on the ground that the First Amendment
barred him from addressing the underlying religious questions.
Instead, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found simply
that the case did not belong in federal court, and returned it
to the Dakota County, Minnesota state court where it began.
ConAgra has long used the slogan "we answer to a higher
authority" to promote Hebrew National products.
The consumers had sued Omaha, Nebraska-based ConAgra in May
2012 on behalf of a nationwide class they claimed was misled
into paying more for Hebrew National products.
They claimed that a meat processor and kosher supervisor
Triangle K failed to follow proper religious procedures, and
objected to packaging that touted products that "meet a higher
standard," being made with "premium cuts of 100 percent kosher
beef" and by people who "answer to a higher authority."
The plaintiffs did not claim to keep kosher, but thought
they were buying better products that justified higher prices.
ConAgra moved the case to federal court, where it was
dismissed in January 2013 by U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank.
He wrote that evaluating whether the products were indeed
kosher was a religious question beyond his jurisdiction, and
that evaluating certifications by Triangle K "would necessarily
intrude upon rabbinical religious autonomy."
Writing for the 8th Circuit, Chief Judge William Jay Riley
said the consumers lacked standing to sue in federal court,
calling it "pure speculation" that any Hebrew National products
they personally bought were tainted by non-kosher beef.
But Riley added that if it becomes clear a lawsuit does not
belong in federal court after a defendant such as ConAgra moves
it there, then the solution is to return it to the state court
where it came from, not to dismiss it altogether.
Frank did not do that, and as a result his "prejudicial
dismissal" needed to be reversed, Riley said.
ConAgra spokeswoman Lanie Friedman said: "Although this
decision does not conclude the case, we are satisfied with the
outcome to date. We continue to stand behind our kosher status.
Hebrew National products are kosher, and this lawsuit is without
Anne Regan, a lawyer for the consumers, did not immediately
respond to requests for comment.
ConAgra's brands include Chef Boyardee, Gulden's, Healthy
Choice, Peter Pan and Swiss Miss, among others. They are not
part of the lawsuit.
The case is Wallace et al v. ConAgra Foods Inc, 8th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 13-1485.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David