Clausen Miller Scores Major Diacetyl Victory
On March 4, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a decision that may have national implications in the long-running litigation involving use of the ingredient diacetyl in butter flavoring for popcorn. The court affirmed a decision for the defendant flavor manufacturers and against the plaintiffs who claimed injury from the inhalation of microwave butter popcorn fumes. Stults v. American Pop Corn Co., 2016 U.S. App. Lexis 4181 (Mar. 4, 2016).
Clausen Miller monitored the case in the district court as appellate counsel, and it handled the subsequent appeal. The Clausen Miller attorneys working on the case included partners Tom Ryerson, Ed Kay, Don Sampen and Joe Ferrini.
As background, the injured plaintiff claimed that he inhaled microwave buttered popcorn aromas on a daily basis for some 20 years. As a result, he contended that he developed the disease bronchiolitis obliterans from the diacetyl used to make the butter flavoring. He brought suit against numerous makers and distributors of the popcorn and butter flavoring. The only claim that made it to trial, however, was for breach of implied warranty against International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc., and its subsidiary, Bush Boake Allen, Inc.
The jury found in favor of the defendants, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Eighth Circuit.
On appeal, the plaintiffs focused on expert testimony that was heard by the jury but that was subsequently stricken by the district court judge due to alleged technical deficiencies. The plaintiffs contended that just by the jurors having heard the stricken testimony in the first instance, reversal was warranted, but the Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that it was not. The Court ruled that the plaintiffs’ counsel “forfeited” at least two claimed errors regarding the testimony by not raising sufficient objections, and that the district judge’s curative instructions otherwise were proper. Additionally, the Court rejected the argument that the plaintiffs were entitled to a hearing on supposed juror misconduct related to the stricken testimony.
Finally, the plaintiffs contended that the defendants had not adequately rebutted the plaintiffs’ evidence. The Court, however, agreed with Clausen Miller’s argument that the defendants had no obligation to do so. The Court said that the burden of proof was on the plaintiffs, and the jury might simply have disbelieved the plaintiffs’ witnesses.