The U.S. Supreme Court asked the Justice Department on Monday for advice on a bid by the nation's largest grocery chains to block customers from suing over violations of government food-labeling rules.
Supermarkets led by Supervalu Inc., Safeway Inc. and Kroger Co. contend that only government regulators, and not customers, can enforce federal and state labeling laws. The companies are seeking to stop a suit accusing them of concealing that salmon they sold contained artificial coloring. The California Supreme Court cleared the customer suit to go forward.
In their appeal, the supermarkets said the California court ruling was "an open invitation to private plaintiffs nationwide to bring class actions."
The high court's request, directed to U.S. Solicitor Gen. Gregory Garre, signals that the justices may add the case to their 2008-09 docket.
The central question for the court in the new case is whether the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which governs food labeling at the federal level, bars private efforts to enforce similar state laws.