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Guttmann v. Nissin Foods (U.S.A.) Company, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 15, 2015

VICTOR GUTTMANN, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
NISSIN FOODS (U.S.A.) COMPANY, INC., Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

WILLIAM ALSUP, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

In this putative class action involving instant noodles, defendant manufacturer moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated herein, defendant's motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

STATEMENT

Our plaintiff, Victor Guttmann, seeks to eradicate artificial trans-fat from food. Since 2008, Guttmann has purchased and consumed a variety of instant noodle products manufactured and sold by defendant Nissin Foods (U.S.A.) Company, Inc. Nissin's noodle products contained partially-hydrogenated oil, a food additive derived from low-cost oils. The manufacturing process for partially-hydrogenated oils produces artificial trans-fat with a chemical structure different from most naturally-occurring fat. The chemical properties of artificial trans-fat give partially-hydrogenated oil a longer shelf life as compared to other additives derived from low-cost oils (Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 10-15, 58).

Guttmann's complaint cites numerous studies that purportedly link the consumption of artificial trans-fat to increased risk of certain medical conditions such as cardiovascular heart disease, diabetes, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and organ damage. In particular, the complaint alleges "[t]here is no safe level' of artificial trans fat intake" and "any incremental increase in trans fat increases risk of [cardiovascular heart disease]" ( id. ¶¶ 16-56). The use of partially-hydrogenated oils is not required by law, and while this motion was pending, the Food and Drug Administration issued a final determination that partially-hydrogenated oils are no longer "generally recognized as safe." 80 Fed. Reg. 34650 (June 17, 2015). Pursuant to that determination, manufacturers have three years to remove partially-hydrogenated oils from their products.

Although all of Nissin's noodle products contained partially-hydrogenated oils (and listed those oils among the ingredients of those products), the nutrition-facts panel on each of the product labels included the indication "Trans Fat: 0g." Additionally, five of those products included icons on the front of the product labels that described the product as containing "0g Trans Fat" (Def.'s Request for Judicial Notice, Exhs. 1-13).[1]

FDA regulations do not require trans-fat content to be declared in the nutrition-facts panel on a product label; however, "[i]f the serving contains less than 0.5 gram[s of trans-fat], the content, when declared, shall be expressed as zero." 21 C.F.R. 101.9(c)(2)(ii).

Guttmann claims that he relied on the "0g Trans Fat" icon when purchasing the five products so labeled, because he was seeking products "that did not negatively affect blood cholesterol levels or the health of his cardiovascular system, and products made with natural, healthy ingredients." He also claims he assumed that all of Nissin's noodle products were safe to consume. Guttmann's complaint also includes a list of several products similar to Nissin's noodles that do not contain artificial trans-fat (Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 76-84; Appendix B).

This is not Guttmann's first foray into litigation regarding artificial trans-fat. Guttmann has filed three prior lawsuits regarding artificial trans-fat and food labeling. Chacanaca v. The Quaker Oats Company , No. 10-0502 (N.D. Cal.) (Judge Richard Seeborg); Eileen Peviani, et al. v. Hostess Brands, Inc., No. 10-02303 (C.D. Cal.) (Judge Consuelo Marshall); Guttmann v. Ole Mexican Foods, Inc., No. 14-04845 (N.D. Cal.) (Judge Haywood Gilliam).

In February 2015, Guttmann commenced this action against Nissin and seeks to represent two nation-wide classes, the particulars of which are not yet in play (Amd. Compl. ¶ 85).

Guttmann's complaint alleges eight claims for relief: (1) the unfair prong of the California Unfair Competition Law, California Business & Professions Code Sections 17200, et seq., (2) nuisance under California Civil Code Sections 3749, et seq., (3) breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, (4) the unlawful prong of the California Unfair Competition Law, (5) the fraudulent prong of the California Unfair Competition Law, (6) the California False Advertising Law, California Business & Professions Code Sections 17500, et seq., (7) California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, California Civil Code Sections 1750, et seq., and (8) breach of the express warranty that the noodles contained 0g trans-fat. Guttmann seeks, among other things, restitution, disgorgement, punitive damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees.

Nissin now moves to dismiss Guttmann's complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). This order follows ...


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