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Peterson v. Conagra Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 29, 2014

ERIC PETERSON, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
CONAGRA FOODS, INC., a Delaware corporation, Defendant.


M. JAMES LORENZ, District Judge.

This action arises from Plaintiff Eric Peterson's allegation that the "No MSG" or "No MSG Added" representations made by Defendant ConAgra Foods, Inc. ("ConAgra") violated the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, the False Advertising Law, the California Unfair Competition, and California's express warranty law. Defendant now moves to dismiss the claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

The Court found this motion suitable for determination on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See CIV. L.R. 7.1(d.1). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendant's motion to dismiss.


On December 24, 2013, Plaintiff Brian O'Dea brought a class action against ConAgra. ConAgra filed a motion to dismiss on January 17, 2014. In response to ConAgra's motion to dismiss the original Complaint, the parties stipulated to leave for Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint and the Court so ordered. (doc. #12)

On March 10, 2014, Plaintiff Eric Peterson, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, filed the First Amended Complaint ("FAC"). According to the FAC, Defendant ConAgra is a Delaware corporation that owns and operates American packaged food companies. (FAC ¶ 10.) It produces canned foods, frozen foods, and snacks distributed under many different brands. ( Id. ) The product at issue is Chef Boyardee Mac & Cheese, which expressly states "No MSG" or "No MSG Added" on the labels. ( Id. ¶¶ 10, 20.) However, the product is alleged to contain one or more ingredients that contain MSG or create MSG during processing. ( Id. ¶ 22.) Peterson is a resident and citizen of San Diego, California. ( Id. ¶ 9.) Peterson purchased Chef Boyardee's Mac & Cheese product in Del Mar, California in or around June, 2013. ( Id. ) Peterson alleges that he relied on the representation that the product contained no MSG, and that he would not have bought the product had he known that it contained MSG. ( Id. ) The FAC asserts four causes of action: (1) violation of California Consumers Legal Remedies Act; (2) violation of the False Advertising Law; (3) violation of the California Unfair Competition Law; and (4) breach of express warranty under CAL. COM. CODE § 2313.

On March 31, 2014, ConAgra moved to dismiss the FAC, arguing that Peterson's claims are expressly preempted by federal law. On April 21, 2014, Peterson filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss, alleging that his claims are not preempted because the state laws effectively parallel the relevant sections of the federal law. On April 28, 2014, ConAgra filed a reply in further support of their motion to dismiss.


The court must dismiss a cause of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). The court must accept all allegations of material fact as true and construe them in light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cedars-Sanai Med. Ctr. v. Nat'l League of Postmasters of U.S., 497 F.3d 972, 975 (9th Cir. 2007). Material allegations, even if doubtful in fact, are assumed to be true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, the court need not "necessarily assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations." Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). In fact, the court does not need to accept any legal conclusions as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). Instead, the allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. Thus, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law either for lack of a cognizable legal theory or for insufficient facts under a cognizable theory. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984).


A. Federal Preemption

ConAgra contends that Peterson's state law claims as to the "No MSG" statements are expressly preempted by federal law.[1]

Federal law preempts state law when: (1) a congressional statute explicitly preempts state law (express preemption); (2) federal law occupies a legislative field to an extent that it is reasonable to conclude that Congress left no room for the state to regulate in that field (field preemption); or (3) state law conflicts with federal law (conflicts preemption). Chae v. SLM Corp., 593 F.3d 936, 941 (9th Cir. 2010). Field and conflicts preemptions are examples of implied preemption; they give rise to an inference that Congress left ...

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