California Milk Board Can't Be Sued for 'Happy Cows' Campaign
Litigation - Article Series from Articles Archive

FROM Donna Higgins, Food Health & Safety Litigation Reporter
January 13, 2005 -

[Editor's note from Peta: How can the CMAB get away with lying to consumers? The CMAB is the marketing arm of the California Department of Agriculture, a government agency, and in California, remarkably, government agencies are exempt from false-advertising laws. Do happy cows come from California? ]

The California Milk Producers Advisory Board cannot be sued for false advertising under California's wide-ranging Unfair Competition Law, a state appeals court has ruled, rejecting a lawsuit filed by an animal-rights group seeking to halt the board's "Happy Cows" ad campaign.

The appeals court affirmed a lower court ruling that the Milk Producers Advisory Board is not a "person" under the Unfair Competition Law and thus could not be sued.

Animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed the suit in San Francisco Superior Court, alleging that the MPAB's "Happy Cows" advertising campaign was false and misleading. The television commercials and print ads — all carrying the slogan "Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California." — feature talking bovines cavorting in sunny pastures.

Far from enjoying the idyllic existence depicted in the ads, PETA's suit charged, most California dairy cows spend their lives in dry dirt lots while being repeatedly impregnated and then eventually slaughtered.

The trial court dismissed the case, holding that the MPAB was not a "person" as that term is used in the UCL, and thus that it could not be sued for false advertising. PETA appealed.

A California 1st District Court of Appeal panel affirmed in an opinion by Associate Justice Ignazio Ruvolo, joined by Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline and Associate Justice Paul R. Haerle.

The panel explained that the UCL authorizes injunctive relief, like that sought by PETA, against "any person" and defines "person" as "natural persons, corporations, firms, partnerships, joint stock companies, associations and other organizations of persons."

The MPAB is a public entity, and public entities are not included in the UCL's definition of "person," the panel said.

PETA argued that it should still be allowed to proceed because public entities are excluded from the UCL's definition of "person" only to the extent that a lawsuit would interfere with the entity's exercise of its sovereign powers.

The panel disagreed, saying MPAB's purpose is to promote the state's dairy industry and increase sales of its products.

"[W]e have no hesitancy in concluding there would indeed be an 'infringement of sovereign power' for the [board] to be subject to suit under the UCL for the content of one of its promotional campaigns," the panel said.

Related article: PETA’s Lawsuit Against the CMAB

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