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Murray v. The Elations Co., LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

August 4, 2014

WILLIAM MURRAY, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
THE ELATIONS COMPANY, LLC, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND (ECF No. 9)

CYNTHIA BASHANT, District Judge.

On October 1, 2013, Plaintiff William Murray Jr. ("Plaintiff") commenced this class action arising out of the advertising and sales of a glucosamine- and chondroitin-based health supplement against The Elations Company, LLC and Beverages Holdings, LLC (collectively, "Defendants") alleging violations of California's Consumers Legal Remedies Act, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1750 et seq. ("CLRA") and Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200, et seq. ("UCL"), and breach of express warranty. Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint ("Complaint") under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a), 9(b), and 12(b)(6).

The Court finds 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 Defendants' motion to dismiss WITH LEAVE TO AMEND.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges in the Complaint that Defendants "distribute, market, and sell Elations' a line of Glucosamine- and Chondroitin-based supplements that purportedly provide a variety of health benefits focused on improving joint health, mobility, flexibility, and lubrication." (Complaint at ¶¶ 1, 14.) According to Plaintiff, he "purchased Defendants' Elations products from time to time" for "approximately two years leading up to May 2013." ( Id. at ¶ 11.) Plaintiff alleges that "[d]uring those times, and on May 15, 2013, he was exposed to, read and relied upon Defendants' representations regarding the joint-health benefits of the Elations products by reading the Elations product label in a Ralph's store near his home in Laguna Hills, California." ( Id. ) According to Plaintiff, he also made "additional purchases of the Elations products" at "various stores in Orange County, California." ( Id. )

Plaintiff contends that he purchased the Elations products "[i]n reliance on the claims listed on the product label... and specifically those claims listed on the product label, that Elations would give him healthier joints' and improve joint comfort.'" ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges he "purchased the product believing it would provide the advertised joint-health benefits and improve his joint soreness and comfort." ( Id. ) Plaintiff contends he "consumed the product regularly for several days, but did not experience the intended, advertised benefits." ( Id. ) Plaintiff further alleges he purchased the product at Ralphs for approximately $8.65 and spent "approximately the same amount on other occasions at various stores." ( Id. )

Plaintiff additionally alleges that Defendants presently offer two forms of the Elations product - a pre-made liquid version and a pre-mixed powder version - online and in stores. ( Id. at ¶¶ 15-16.) Plaintiff alleges that Elations' product label for both versions represents that Elations "Helps Improve Your Joint Comfort" and "Helps Improve Your Joint Flexibility" and that he relied on these representations. ( Id .; see also ¶¶ 4, 11, 23-25, Ex. A.) Plaintiff also alleges that since the launch of Elations in 2004, "Defendants have consistently conveyed the message to consumers throughout California that the Elations products will reduce joint pain and increase joint comfort' and joint flexibility.'" ( Id. at ¶ 17; see also ¶¶ 23-25.) Plaintiff further alleges that Elations' website and television commercials "repeat and reinforce" the joint-health statements made on the packaging and labeling, including one commercial that represents Elations is "[c]linically proven to improve joint comfort in as little as 6 days'" and another commercial that claims Elations "renews cartilage; cushions joints; improves flexibility.'" ( Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.)

Plaintiff also contends that while Elations contains more than two ingredients, the two "primary active ingredients" which "Defendants both prominently display on its packaging and diligently promote as providing the purported joint-health benefits" are glucosamine and chondroitin. ( Id. at ¶¶ 17-19.) Plaintiff alleges that while the "minor ingredients are also not effective in providing the joint-health benefits represented by Defendants, " "the focus is on the uniform false and deceptive representations and omissions that Defendants make about glucosamine and chondroitin on the package labeling of each Elations product." ( Id. at ¶ 18.) Plaintiff contends that contrary to the stated representations on the Elations labeling and packaging, there is "no competent scientific evidence" and "Defendants do not possess (and have not possessed) competent scientific evidence" that taking glucosamine and chondroitin, "together or in isolation" can provide the advertised joint-health and cartilage benefits, including relieving the major symptoms of arthritis or any other joint-related ailments. ( Id. at ¶¶ 21-22, 28-29.) In support of his position, Plaintiff cites numerous studies which he alleges "confirm that the representations made on the Elations product label... are false and misleading." ( Id. at ¶¶ 30-52.)

On October 1, 2013, Plaintiff commenced this class action. In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts three claims for: (1) violation of the CLRA, (2) violation of the UCL, and (3) breach of express warranty. Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a), 9(b), and 12(b)(6). Plaintiff opposes.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires a plaintiff to plead a claim with enough specificity to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the claims asserted in the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). In considering such a motion, the court must accept all allegations of material fact pleaded in the complaint as true and must construe them and draw all reasonable inferences from them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). To avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, rather, it must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

"[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] 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 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (alteration in original)). Furthermore, a court need not accept "legal conclusions" as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Despite the deference the court must pay to the plaintiff's allegations, it is not proper for the court to assume that "the [plaintiff] can prove facts that [he or she] has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the... laws in ways that have not been alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).

As a general rule, a court freely grants leave to amend a complaint which has been dismissed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). However, leave to amend may be denied when "the court determines that the allegation of other facts consistent with the challenged pleading could not possibly cure the deficiency." Schreiber Distrib. Co. v. Serv-Well Furniture Co., Inc., 806 F.2d 1393, 1401 (9th Cir. 1986).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Incorporation by Reference

As an initial matter, Defendants request that the Court consider Elations' entire packaging under the "incorporation by reference" doctrine. (ECF No. 9-1 ("Mot.") at p. 4, n. 1.) Defendants argue that the entire packaging should be considered in light of Plaintiff's allegations that he "read and relied upon" Defendants' statements on the packaging. ( Id. (citing Complaint at ¶ 11).) In support of this request, Defendants attach a copy of the Elations product packaging that has been in use since August 26, 2010 to their motion to dismiss. ( Id .; see also ECF No. 9-3 ("Klene Decl.") at ¶ 3, Ex. A.)

Generally, courts may not consider material outside the complaint when ruling on a motion to dismiss. Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir. 1990). However, documents specifically identified in the complaint whose authenticity is not questioned by the parties may also be considered under the "incorporation by reference" doctrine. Fecht v. Price Co., 70 F.3d 1078, 1080 n.1 (9th Cir. 1995) (superseded by statutes on other grounds); see also Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1076 (9th Cir. 2005). Moreover, the court may consider the full text of those documents even when the complaint quotes only selected portions. Id. If a defendant offers such a document, "the district court may treat such a document as part of the complaint, and thus may assume that its contents are true for purposes of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)." U.S. v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2003).

In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that "[f]or approximately two years leading up to May 2013, [he] purchased Defendants' Elations products from time to time." (Complaint at ¶ 11.) Plaintiff does not identify which Elations product or products - the liquid or powder version - he purchased and used. He simply alleges that "he was exposed to, read and relied upon Defendants' representations... by reading the Elations product label, " and "[i]n reliance on the claims listed on the product label... purchased the Elations product." ( Id. ) Plaintiff claims he specifically relied upon the claims listed on the product label that Elations would give him "healthier joints" and "improve joint comfort." ( Id. ) Plaintiff further contends that "the advertising and marketing messages for [both] products are nearly identical." ( Id. at ¶ 15.)

Plaintiff attaches as Exhibit A to his Complaint incomplete copies of various labels which have been used for the liquid and powder versions of Elations. ( Id. at ¶¶ 2, 4, 15, 17, 23, Ex. A.) The labels appear to have changed over time. ( Cf. id. at Ex. A, p. 1 and p. 2.) Plaintiff acknowledges the variation, noting that "Defendants further warranted at some point during the class period that the claimed benefits could be received in as little as 6 days." ( Id. at p. 2 (emphasis added).) While Exhibit A only shows the front label on the liquid version, and front and partial back label of the powder version, Plaintiff ...


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