The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rhoades, District Judge.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' ANTI-SLAPP MOTIONS
Plaintiff Metabolife International, Inc. ("Metabolife") claims that,
when Defendants made statements as part of a television news broadcast
addressing the safety of Plaintiff's product, Metabolife 356, they
committed defamation, slander, trade libel, and intentional and negligent
interference with prospective economic advantage. Responding to these
allegations, Defendants have filed motions (1) to dismiss the complaint
under California Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16 (the "anti-SLAPP
statute"), (2) to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and (3) to
dismiss for improper venue or, alternatively to transfer venue. At
Defendants' requests, this order addresses only the motions to dismiss
under California's anti-SLAPP statute. For the reasons set forth herein,
the Court grants Defendants' anti-SLAPP motions and strikes Metabolife's
complaint in its entirety.
Metabolife is a California corporation that manufactures and
distributes herbal dietary supplements. The company's primary product is
"Metabolife 356," a dietary supplement designed to promote weight loss
and boost energy. Metabolife 356 is "the best selling dietary supplement
for weight loss in the United States." (Compl. ¶ 8.) While
Metabolife's workforce is based in San Diego, California, Metabolife
sells its products through independent distributors which operate retail
stands in shopping centers throughout the United States.
The primary active ingredient in Metabolife 356 is the Chinese herbal
supplement ma huang, a naturally-occurring
form of the substance ephedrine. Because the Food and Drug Administration
("FDA") considers ma huang to be a food, not a drug, Metabolife can sell
its product without undergoing the FDA's rigorous "new drug" approval
process. See 21 U.S.C. § 321 (1999) (defining "food, " "drug," and
"dietary supplement," which includes "an herb or other botanical");
21 U.S.C. § 355 (establishing the "new drug" application process).
Nonetheless, concerns about the safety of dietary supplements containing
ephedrine have animated recent debates in government. For example, in
1997, the FDA proposed a rule establishing a dosage regimen and labeling
requirements for dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids, like
ma huang. See 62 Fed.Reg. 30678 (1997); Unites States General Accounting
Office, Dietary Supplements: Uncertainties in Analyses Underlying the
FDA'S Proposed Rules on Ephedrine Alkaloids 1 (July 1999)
["Uncertainties"]; see also Massachusetts Dept. Of Public Health, DPH
Issues Advisory on Herbal Dietary Supplements Containing Ephedra (Aug.
2, 1996). The FDA's proposed rule responds to over 800 Adverse Event
Reports ("AERs") linking ingestion of ephedrine-based diet pills to
serious health effects, including stroke and death. See Uncertainties, at
5. In response to these concerns, the media has produced numerous
broadcasts and articles on the safety of ephedrine-based diet pills.
See, e.g., Charles Babcock, Stimulant Propels Diet Empire: Herbal
Coalition Fights FDA'S Proposed Safety Regulation, Wash. Post, May 24,
1999, at A1; Claudie Kalb, Weighing the Health Risks: Do diet pills like
Metabolife work? And are they safe?, Newsweek, Oct. 18, 1999, at 59.
While no regulations currently exist, the debate rages on.
Metabolife has sued Defendants for their public contributions to this
debate. Defendant Hearst-Argyle Television, Inc. ("WCVB") owns numerous
television and radio stations across the nation, including WCVB-TV, a
local television station in Boston, Massachusetts. From May 11 to May
13, 1999, WCVB broadcast a three-part news report (the "broadcasts") on
the safety of Plaintiff's product, Metabolife 356. The broadcasts marked
the culmination of a "five-month investigation" by Defendant Wornick, a
WCVB reporter and presented a negative perspective on the health risks of
Metabolife 356 use. The broadcasts include narration by Wornick and
footage from several interviews, including one with Defendant Blackburn,
a leading authority in obesity research.
After the broadcasts aired, Metabolife began a campaign against the
onslaught of negative media attention. Metabolife immediately bought a
full page ad refuting the broadcasts in the May 15, 1999 addition of the
Saturday Boston Globe. The ad concludes "We will see Ms. Wornick and
WCVB-TV in court." (Def. Blackburn's R. Ex. B.) The company also wrote
letters to media companies designed to deter similar broadcasts on the
safety concerns surrounding Metabolife 356. (Janis Decl.Exs. 8-10.)
Finally, Metabolife filed the present action, seeking damages based on
numerous statements and alleged defamatory implications arising from the
broadcasts. The complaint alleges causes of action for defamation,
slander, trade libel, and intentional and negligent interference with
prospective economic advantage. For convenience of presentation, the Court
lists the alleged statements and defamatory implications before
addressing each in turn:
Alleged Defamatory Statements
1. Defendant Wornick: "Every expert we asked said
Metabolife is not safe because of its main
ingredient, ma huang."
2. Defendant Blackburn: "You can die from taking this
3. Anchor: "Will the legislature here be considering
just restricting, or banning, Metabolife?"
Defendant Wornick: "I think that is what they are
going to do eventually. Health officials have told us
that they would like to regulate very tightly how it
4. Wornick: "Remember that ad calling Metabolife
clinically tested for safety? Metabolife was tested at
Vanderbilt University, but only for two weeks and,
according to their attorney, not for safety.
Vanderbilt officials have ordered Metabolife to stop
making that claim."
5. Wornick: "Does this company have any credibility at
6. "The substance ephedrine has long had the attention
of law enforcement, because it's also the main
ingredient in the illegal drug methamphetamine. On the
streets they call it meth, or speed."
7. Wornick: "[Ellis] started a vitamin company that
later became Metabolife — makers of diet pills
with ephedrine. Again, the same controlled substance
found in methamphetamine."
8. Wornick: "[Interviewee] thinks she reacted to
ephedrine, a powerful heart stimulant that's the main
ingredient in the illegal drug methamphetamine, known
on the streets as speed."
1. Implications from statements (1), (2), and (3):
(a) Taking Metabolife is deadly;
(b) The consensus in the medical community is that
taking Metabolife is deadly; and
(c) Taking Metabolife as directed poses a risk of
death to the average person that is substantially
greater than that posed by other over-the-counter
2. Implications from statements (4) and (5):
(d) Metabolife knows that the product it makes and
sells to the public is deadly;
(e) There are no scientific studies concluding that
Metabolife 356 is a safe product, and no scientific
support for the assertion that Metabolife 356 is a
(f) Metabolife misrepresents to the public that
scientific studies have concluded that Metabolife 356
is a safe product, and that there is scientific
support for the ...