The Good: Tropicana recently brought a motion to dismiss the Zupnik putative consumer fraud class claims pending against it. Zupnik alleges that Tropicana misled consumers in the promotion of its “Pure 100% Juice Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices from Concentrate with other Natural Flavors” because its front label did not include pictures of fruits other than pomegranates and blueberries.
Tropicana’s motion, brought under both FRCP 9(b) and 12(b)(6), appears as a good example of how putative consumer class claims can be challenged at the outset of the case. Though we don’t yet know whether Tropicana will be successful, its pleading is a sharp attack on the plaintiff’s complaint and takes advantage of the heightened pleading requirements announced recently by the Supreme Court.
Tropicana moved on the basis that the complaint lacks particularity required under Rule 9(b) (the rule requires pleading of the “particularity of the fraud”). It also challenged whether the plaintiff had any injury in fact or alleged any reliance on particular advertising. Finally, Tropicana argued that Zupnik’s claims were expressly preempted by federal law.
Tropicana cites to Twombly to urge the court to disregard “plaintiffs legal conclusions . . . even when made, as here, in the guise of factual allegations.”
Tropicana also attacks Zupnik’s complaint on the basis that “she got what she paid for.” Tropicana points out that its product sold for far less than juice with a higher level of pomegranate or blueberry juices. Because she got what she paid for (presumably regardless of whether she understood it at the time of purchase), she lacks standing to bring a claim for consumer fraud.
The Bad: Coincidently, in another case involving a putative consumer fraud class claim over depictions of fruits on a label, Judge Gorton of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts in Wiley v. Gerber Products Company granted Gerber’s motion to transfer to the Southern District of California for consolidation with the Williams case pending in California. (The Williams case was previously discussed in this blog.)
The lesson from Wiley v Gerber: if your strategy is to avoid transfer of venue, think about this when pleading. For example, do not include allegations in the complaint about a nationwide class and the application of different states’ consumer protection laws.
Wiley argued against transfer, contending that the “Court’s familiarity with Massachusetts law, under which several claims are brought weights against transfer.” The problem is that “in her amended complaint, Wiley added several claims under New Jersey state law which only undermines her contention that this Court is especially competent to adjudicate the state laws at issue in this dispute.” Wiley also alleged a nationwide class. The court found that the plaintiff’s choice of forum mattered little when she alleged a nationwide class.