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Haggag v. Welch Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 24, 2014

Welch Foods, Inc., et al.


JESUS G. BERNAL, District Judge.

This is a putative class action asserting that Defendants misbranded their products in violation of the Food Drug and Cosmetics Act ("FDCA") by including a health claim that does not comply with the regulations promulgated by the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA"). Plaintiff Ahmed Haggag claims that because the label violates the FDCA, the products are in violation of California's Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Law ("Sherman Law"), California Health and Safety Code § 109875 et seq. Based on these allegations, Plaintiff alleges claims under the Unfair Competition Law ("UCL"), the False Advertising Law ("FAL"), the Consumers Legal Remedies Act ("CLRA"), and California common law.

Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions regarding the issue of whether Defendant Welch Foods, Inc.'s label constitutes a health claim. (Doc. Nos. 33, 34.) Also before the Court are the parties' respective supplemental briefs regarding the issues of primary jurisdiction and preemption. (Doc. Nos. 39, 40.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court (1) DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Legal Determination that Defendant's "Heart-Health" Label is a Health Claim; (2) DENIES Defendant's Motion for Ruling Whether Welch's Label Constitutes a Health Claim; and (3) DISMISSES Plaintiff's action WITHOUT PREJUDICE.


A. Factual Background

Welch Foods sells a 100% Grape Juice product in a bottle with a label containing the massage, "Helps Support a Healthy Heart." (First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), ¶ 6; Exh. 1 to Declaration of Jordan L. Lurie in Support of Plaintiff's Motion ("Lurie Decl.").) The message is displayed inside or near a heart symbol. (Exh. 1 to Lurie Decl.) On some bottles, those label elements also appear on the back panel of the label near text that states "As part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle, Welch's 100% Grape Juice, made with Concord grapes, helps support a healthy heart" (the front and back labels are collectively referred to as the "Heart Health Label"). (Id.)

Plaintiff claims he regularly purchased bottles of Welch's 100% Grape Juice approximately every two weeks over the past two years, including bottles with the Heart Health Label. (FAC, ¶ 24.) Plaintiff claims that he read and relied upon the Heart Health Label at the time of purchase and selected Welch's 100% Grape Juice over other less expensive alternatives because of the Heart Health Label. (FAC, ¶ 25.)

Plaintiff's claims arise from the alleged violation of FDA regulations. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that since the Heart Health Label is a health claim, it cannot be made unless it is specifically provided for in 21 C.F.R. § 101, Subpart E, which provides a list of categories of permissible health claims. Plaintiff alleges that the Heart Health Label does not fall under any of the categories established by the FDA. Based on these allegations, Plaintiff alleges violation of various state statutory and common laws. (See FAC.)

B. Procedural Background

On February 22, 2013, Plaintiff filed his Complaint against Welch Foods, Inc. and Welch's Inc. (collectively "Defendants") alleging claims under the UCL, FAL, CLRA, and common law. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendant Welch Foods, Inc. filed its Answer on April 8, 2013. (Doc. No. 10.) Plaintiff filed his FAC on April 29, 2013. (Doc. No. 15.)

Pursuant to the Stipulation and Joint Report that the parties filed on September 4, 2013, the parties agreed that the issue of whether the use of the "Heart Health" label constitutes a health claim or a structure function claim can be determined by the Court as a matter of law and will determine whether the case proceeds to the next phase. (Doc. No. 29.) Pursuant to the parties' stipulation, on October 22, 2013, the Court issued an order setting the briefing schedule for the cross-motions. (Doc. No. 32.)

On November 11, 2013, Defendant Welch Foods, Inc. ("Welch Foods") filed its Opening Brief as to the Legal Issue of Whether the Welch's Label constitutes a Health Claim. (Defendant's Opening Brief ("Def. Op. Br.") (Doc. No. 33).) On November 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed his Motion for Legal Determination that Defendants' "Heart-Health" Label is a Health Claim. (Plaintiff's Motion ("Pl. Op. Br.") (Doc. No. 34).)

On November 25, 2013, Welch Foods filed its Responsive Brief. (Defendant's Responsive Brief ("Def. Resp. Br.") (Doc. No. 36).) On November 25, 2013, Plaintiff filed his Opposition to the Opening Brief of Defendant. (Plaintiff's Opposition ("Pl. Resp. Br.") (Doc. No. 37).)

On December 9, 2013, the Court heard oral argument as to the parties' motions. (Doc. 38.) During that hearing, the Court directed the parties to submit cross briefs regarding the issues of primary ...

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