As our own Ken Odza recently blogged, the plausibility pleading standard articulated by the Supreme Court in the Iqbal and Twombly cases resulted recently in the FRCP 12(b)(6) dismissal of misrepresentation claims against Unilever. That ruling seemed to indicate that consumer fraud claims would be vulnerable to motions for dismissal. However, in an order granting in part and denying in part the defendant’s motion for dismissal in Yumul v. Smart Balance, Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California did not apply the plausibility pleading standard as stringently as the court in the Unilever decision, lending some question as to precisely how far Iqbal and Twombly will reach.
In Yumul, the plaintiffs alleged Smart Balance violated the California Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, and Consumers Legal Remedies Act. These exact same violations were alleged in the Unilever case. In Yumul, the plaintiffs alleged that Smart Balance misled consumers with its marketing of Nucoa margarine as “cholesterol free” and “healthy,” despite the presence of artificial trans fat in the product.
In addressing Smart Balance’s motion for dismissal, the court noted the plaintiffs’ reliance on the delayed discovery exception in support of its assertion that tolling of the statute of limitations was appropriate. Stating the applicable law, the court offered that:
A plaintiff whose complaint shows on its face that his claim would be barred without the benefit of the discovery rule must specifically plead facts to show (1) the time and manner of discovery and (2) the inability to have made earlier discovery despite reasonable diligence. The burden is on the plaintiff to show diligence, and conclusory allegations will not withstand demurrer.
In its order, the court directed the plaintiffs to specify the manner of discovery (how and when the plaintiffs actually discovered the fraud or mistake) within 14 days of the July 30 order in an amended complaint. The court denied Smart Balance’s motion to dismiss on all other grounds. While this is no guarantee of success for the plaintiffs by any means, the decision of the court not to dismiss the allegations in Yumul on the basis of the plausibility pleading standard under Iqbal and Twombly stands as an example of the type of inconsistency we may see as courts attempt to apply the standard. We will continue to closely follow this case.