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Brower v. Campbell Soup Co.

United States District Court, S.D. California

March 21, 2017

HAROLD BROWER and MELINDA FERGUSON, on behalf of themselves, all others similarly situated, and the general public, Plaintiffs,


          Roger T. Benitez, United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Harold Brower and Melinda Ferguson (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) allege that Defendant Campbell Soup Company's (“Defendant” or “Campbell Soup”) Chunky Healthy Request Grilled Chicken & Sausage Gumbo is falsely and misleadingly labeled and advertised as healthy when, in fact, it contains artificial trans fat, a substance harmful to human health. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 16). Now before the Court are three motions: (1) Defendant Campbell Soup's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Consolidated Class Action Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 17); (2) Campbell Soup's Motion for Sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 against Jack Fitzgerald and the Law Office of Jack Fitzgerald, PC (ECF No. 18); and (3) Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for Rule 11 Sanctions against Campbell Soup, Dale Giali, and Kirstin Mazzeo (ECF No. 20). Campbell Soup's primary argument in its motion to dismiss is that Plaintiffs' claims are preempted by federal law. The Rule 11 motions arise from Defendant's contention that Plaintiffs' claims are preempted.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS the motion to dismiss because Plaintiffs' claims are expressly preempted by federal law. The Court DENIES both motions for Rule 11 sanctions.


         Campbell Soup manufactures, markets, and sells to consumers Healthy Request Chunky Grilled Chicken & Sausage Gumbo soup (the “Product” or “Healthy Request Gumbo”). (Am. Compl. ¶ 1). The Product contains an artificial trans fat in the form of partially hydrogenated soybean oil. (Id.)

         The consumption of artificial trans fat substantially harms health, and scientific studies demonstrate that there is no threshold intake level of artificial trans fat that does not increase the risk of heart disease. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 14-34). Artificial trans fat consumption is also linked to increased risk of diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 26-30). Due to these health risks, in June 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) announced that partially hydrogenated oils (“PHOs”), the primary dietary source of industrially-produced trans fats, are no longer generally recognized as safe (“GRAS”) for use in human food. (Id. ¶ 34 (citing Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils, 80 Fed. Reg. 34650 (June 17, 2015))). The FDA gave the food industry three years to remove PHOs from processed foods or receive approval for PHO use. (Id.)

         Despite the health risks associated with trans fats, Campbell Soup markets Healthy Request Gumbo as a healthy product. (See Id. ¶¶ 35-45, 50-52). The Product's packaging includes the following labels: (1) “Healthy Request;” (2) “Heart Healthy;” (3) “COOKED WITH CARE;” (4) “Made with Lean Chicken Meat;” (5) American Heart Association (“AHA”) “CERTIFIED” emblem and “Meets Criteria for Heart-Healthy Food;” and (6) vignettes of vegetables and grains. (Id. ¶ 50). The labeling omits information about the presence of trans fats and their health effects. (Id. ¶ 51). The Product's packaging also fails to disclose that Campbell Soup paid for the AHA certification emblem. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43, 54). Plaintiffs contend that the Product's labels, taken individually and as a whole, are false and misleading because they suggest that the Product is healthy when, in fact, the presence of trans fats makes it detrimental to health. (Id. ¶¶ 50, 52).

         Plaintiffs purchased and consumed Healthy Request Gumbo in reliance on the health and wellness claims conveyed through the Product's labeling. (Id. ¶¶ 59-63). They have been injured by spending money on a product that was worth less than what Plaintiffs paid for it. (Id. ¶ 68). Had Plaintiffs known about the presence and detrimental health effects of artificial trans fat in Healthy Request Gumbo, Plaintiffs would not have purchased the Product or would not have purchased as much of it. (Id. ¶¶ 67, 69-71). Plaintiffs have also been injured by their increased risk of heart disease and other morbidity as a result of consuming Healthy Request Gumbo. (Id. ¶ 62).

         Plaintiffs bring a complaint alleging violations of California's Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”), False Advertising Law (“FAL”), and Consumer Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”), and breaches of express warranties and the implied warranty of merchantability under California's Commercial Code.


         A. Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be granted where the pleadings fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[2] When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must “accept as true facts alleged and draw inferences from them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Stacy v. Rederite Otto Danielsen, 609 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2010). A plaintiff must not merely allege conceivably unlawful conduct but must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim is facially plausible ‘when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Zixiang Li v. Kerry, 710 F.3d 995, 999 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         B. Request for Judicial Notice

         Defendant asks the Court to take judicial notice of a copy of the packaging label for Healthy Request Gumbo in use during the class period. (See Request for Judicial Notice (“RJN”) Ex. A). Federal Rule of Evidence 201 authorizes a court to take judicial notice of facts “not subject to reasonable dispute because [they] . . . can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed.R.Evid. 201(b). A court may take judicial notice of documents “whose contents are alleged in a complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the plaintiff's pleading.” Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1076 (9th Cir. 2005). Here, Plaintiffs' entire case theory depends on the labels on Healthy Request Gumbo, to ...

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