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Kennedy v. Natural Balance Pet Foods

May 13, 2008

ROBERT ADAM KENNEDY, AN INDIVIDUAL, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATURAL BALANCE PET FOODS, INC., A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION; AND DOES 1 THROUGH 100, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn L. Huff, District Judge United States District Court

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT

This action, which was removed to this Court on June 13, 2007, arises from Plaintiff's allegation that defendant Natural Balance Pet Foods, Inc. sold pet food products that contained foreign-sourced ingredients but were labeled for sale by Defendant as "Made in the USA." (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff's first amended complaint asserts violations by Defendant of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act ("CLRA"), Cal. Civ. Code § 1770 et seq., and unfair competition in violation of Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 et seq. (Doc. No. 18.) Defendant filed an answer to Plaintiff's first amended complaint on September 12, 2007. Doc. No. 19.)

On April 18, 2008, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend the complaint. (Doc. Nos. 37, 39.) Defendant filed a response in opposition on May 9, 2008. (Doc. No. 47.) The Court exercises its discretion pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1) to decide this matter without oral argument and therefore vacates the hearing scheduled for May 19, 2008.

Background

Pursuant to the case management order issued on October 17, 2007, any motion to amend the pleadings "shall be filed and heard on or before April 21, 2008." (Doc. No. 23.) All interrogatories and requests for the production of documents must be served by May 19, 2008. Plaintiff is to designate the expert witnesses Plaintiff expects to call at trial no later than May 19, 2008. Defendant must designate the expert witnesses it expects to call at trial by June 16, 2008. June 30, 2008 is the deadline for supplemental designation of experts. All discovery shall be completed by July 14, 2008. (See Doc. No. 35.)

The second amended complaint that Plaintiff seeks leave to file would list additional products with allegedly false designations of geographic origins and additional foreign-sourced components. Plaintiff states that, at the time the first amended complaint was filed, Plaintiff knew of four products sold by Defendant that contained rice protein concentrate from China but were labeled for sale as "Made in the USA." Plaintiff identified those four products in the FAC. (FAC ¶ 2.) According to Plaintiff, discovery has "confirmed the existence of" other pet food products made by Defendant that contained other foreign-sourced components, including vitamins, taurine, lamb meal and venison meal. As a result, Plaintiff desires to amend the complaint to list each product, as well as the specific foreign-sourced components of those products. Amended in this manner, Plaintiff's complaint would list 42 products sold by Defendant.

Plaintiff also seeks to change the definition of the putative class. Currently, the operative complaint defines the class as follows: "All individuals in the United States who purchased one or more Natural Balance brand pet food products between May 3, 2003 and April 17, 2007." (FAC ¶ 17.) Through discovery Plaintiff has learned that some consumers who bought Natural Balance brand pet food products have received refunds for the purchase of those goods. Accordingly, the proposed amended complaint would define the class to exclude such individuals: "All individuals in the United States who purchased one or more of the following Natural Balance brand pet food products since May 3, 2003, excluding from this class those specific purchases of Natural Balance products for which a full refund was paid to the consumer."

In addition to modifying the class definition, Plaintiff's proposed second amended complaint would extend the class period by eliminating April 17, 2007, as the end of the class period. Plaintiff contends that, initially, Defendant stated that sale of the products at issue ceased on April 17, 2007, which is why Plaintiff's FAC capped the class at that date. According to Plaintiff, the testimony of Defendant's Rule 30(b)(6) witness has confirmed that the "Made in USA" label was not removed from Natural Balance brand pet food products until August of 2007. Finally, Plaintiff's proposed amended complaint modifies Plaintiff's claim under the CLRA to include a request for damages. Plaintiff states that Plaintiff served the requisite statutory notice and Defendant refused to provide the relief demanded.

Discussion

Defendant opposes Plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint. Defendant argues that the motion is untimely pursuant to the deadline set by the case management order for motions to amend the pleadings. Defendant also contends that it will suffer prejudice if Plaintiff is permitted to amend its complaint.

I. Motion to Amend -- Legal Standard

Once a responsive pleading has been filed, a party may amend its complaint only with leave of the court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). Although Rule 15 instructs that leave to amend "shall be freely given when justice so requires," courts deny leave to amend when the moving party has engaged in undue delay, bad faith or dilatory tactics, where amendment would result in undue prejudice to the opposing party, or where amendment would be futile. See Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003). "Prejudice is the touchstone of the inquiry under Rule 15(a)." Id.

The Court concludes that, in the circumstances of this case, granting leave to amend the complaint would result in undue prejudice to Defendant. Shortly before the close of discovery, Plaintiff seeks to significantly expand the number of products referred to in the complaint, as well as expand the time period covered by the definition of the putative class.

Plaintiff's proposed amended complaint also adds a new claim for damages under Plaintiff's CLRA claim. Under the current case management order, Defendant would have a very limited time period within which to conduct discovery as to those new matters. For example, Defendant would be forced to designate its expert witnesses for trial within days of the filing of Plaintiff's amended complaint. Any additional discovery required with respect to the new matters would need to be completed in less than two months. Moreover, Defendant would be forced to ...


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