Consolidation of multiple class actions against Hill's Pet Nutrition is up for consideration by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. A hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. May 30 at the Hale Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans (pictured). Judge Sarah S. Vance of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana will chair the seven-member panel.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition quietly added on Wednesday more canned dog food to its list of recalled diets that have been pulled from circulation since January, following reports that they contained too much vitamin D.
According to the company, 12.5-ounce cans of Hill’s Prescription Diet I/D Canine Chicken & Vegetable Stew, lot number 102020T21, "was inadvertently left off our recall list." Now updated, the list includes 33 varieties of Hill’s Prescription Diet and Hill’s Science Diet canned dog food.
"We are in the process of reaching out to veterinarians. We regret any confusion this may cause," reads a statement from Hill's to the VIN News Service, received Friday. "We’ve received no inquiries or complaints of adverse effects in pets for this date code since the initial recall was announced on Jan. 31."
Hill's, which manufactures and sells dog food under Hill’s Prescription Diet and Hill’s Science Diet labels, has faced backlash from veterinarians and pet owners following the recall. It's unknown how many dogs were sickened and died as a result of eating the affected dog food. Signs of vitamin D overdose in dogs range from drooling, constipation and/or vomiting, to seizing. Other common indicators include increased urination and thirst. High amounts of vitamin D can cause hypercalcemia, or abnormally high calcium levels in the bloodstream. Elevated calcium can lead to bone loss and kidney or bladder stones, in addition to other maladies. Left untreated, the condition can prompt renal failure and be fatal.
Hill's Facebook page is littered with comments from aggrieved pet owners, and veterinarians say they should have been provided more information, and sooner. The company faces dozens of class action lawsuits. Court documents show that Hill’s is accused of negligence, fraud, false advertising and being slow to respond to the recall, among other allegations.
Hill’s blames the mixup on "human error" by a supplier of vitamin premix. The company has refused to identify the supplier, apart from noting that it’s "well-known" and based in the United States. Colgate-Palmolive Co., a publicly traded company that owns Hill's, briefly referenced the recall in its first-quarter 2019 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The document noted that Hill's is contractually entitled to recall-related compensation from the supplier.
The supplier's identity is among the first questions John Macoretta plans to ask of Hill's. The Philadelphia-based attorney is representing pet owners in Brown v. Hill’s, one of 25 or so class action suits filed between early February and May in 10 U.S. district courts.
"That’s the big question," Macoretta said Thursday in an interview with VIN News. "We will ask Hill's, 'Where does this stuff come from?' and then subpoena the supplier.’ "
It will be months before Hill's responds to the allegations. First, the courts need to organize the multiple cases. A motion is pending to consolidate the actions under a single district court. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation will consider arguments on the topic during a hearing May 30 at the Hale Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans. The JPML is expected to make a decision by mid-June.
The volume and breadth of the complaints against Hill's haven't been seen in the pet food arena since the melamine contamination of 2007, the worst tainted pet-food scandal in history. The case involved contract manufacturer Menu Foods, which supplied wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate that contained melamine and cyanuric acid to at least 180 brands of dog and cat food, including Hill's and other prominent names in the business. The adulterated ingredients came from unscrupulous suppliers in China.
The combination of melamine and cyanuric acid forms crystals in the kidneys, potentially leading to renal disease and renal failure. Tens of thousands of animals ate the poisoned foods, many becoming so sick they died.
More than 100 class action suits were spurred by the scandal and consolidated. The case was settled in 2010 for a $24 million. Of that amount, $12.4 million went to pet owners. The rest went to fees for attorneys and administrators.
Update: Six punitive class action suits pending against Hill's Pet Nutrition now are consolidated and headed to Judge Julie A. Robinson of U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, according to a transfer order filed June 4 by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. In addition to the six cases, 23 other potentially related class action suits could be consolidated and brought to Kanasas, where Hill's is headquartered.