In two recent cases, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts has rejected attempts to throw out consumer protection lawsuits for failure to follow the strict mandates of the Chapter 93A demand letter requirement. Massachusetts’ Consumer Protection Law, Chapter 93A allows the Commonwealth and consumers to take legal action against unfair or deceptive conduct by businesses in the Commonwealth. Before filing suit, however, the complaining party must send a demand letter “reasonably describing the unfair or deceptive act or practice relied upon and the injury suffered.” The purpose of this requirement is to put the potential respondent on notice of the claims against it and to encourage settlement before a lawsuit is filed.
As the District of Massachusetts recently confirmed, however, the demand letter requirement “is not meant to impede the vindication of consumers’ rights.” Therefore, the obligations to “reasonably describe” the unfair or deceptive act and the injury suffered are interpreted liberally. In Lee v. Conagra Brands, Inc., a consumer sued Conagra for deceptive packaging on its Wesson brand vegetable oil. The demand letter stated that the vegetable oil was mislabeled and therefore all affected consumers were entitled to damages. The District of Massachusetts held this was enough to satisfy the demand letter requirements of 93A. The consumer’s “failure to use the word ‘injury’ or to identify a specific dollar estimate of damages did not prevent Conagra from being able to approximate its potential liability.” Similarly, in Dumont v. Reily Foods Co., a consumer sent a demand letter explaining that she had purchased the company’s flavored coffee, which “contain[ed] none of their characterizing ingredients” and therefore sought a refund. The Court found this description sufficient to raise the “reasonable inference . . . that plaintiff suffered a monetary injury when she purchased the allegedly mislabeled product.”
By shooting down these attempts to strictly enforce the demand letter requirement, the Court has ensured that consumers continue to have an avenue of relief available so long as they reasonably identify the unfair or deceptive act or practice and how they were injured thereby.