United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO
THELTON E. HENDERSON United States District Judge
February 16, 2017, the Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand.
ECF No. 19 (“Mot.”). Defendants timely opposed
Plaintiff's motion, ECF No. 21 (“Opp'n”),
and Plaintiff timely replied, ECF No. 22
(“Reply”). The Court heard oral arguments on the
motion on April 3, 2017. After carefully considering the
parties' written and oral arguments, the Court GRANTS
Plaintiff's motion for the reasons set forth below.
case is about a putative class action filed against Welch
Foods and Promotion In Motion
(“PIM”). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants sell
fruit snack products in California with false and misleading
labels. ECF No. 1-4 (“Compl.”) ¶ 1. This is
because the products state they contain “no
preservatives” when, in fact, they contain three
ingredients which have been recognized by the Food and Drug
Administration (“FDA”) as chemical preservatives.
Id. ¶¶ 3, 13-14. And also because
Defendants' fruit snacks state “Fruit is our
1st Ingredient!” when, in fact, the
Defendants are unlawfully grouping separate fruit puree
ingredients to make fruit appear as a more predominant
ingredient than it really is. Id. ¶¶ 4,
Plaintiff seeks only declaratory and injunctive relief based
on two claims for relief: (1) A violation of the Consumer
Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”); and (2) a violation
of the Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”).
Id. ¶¶ 32-46. In particular, Plaintiff
seeks an injunction preventing Defendants from continuing to
sell the allegedly mislabeled products. Id. at
November 2017, Plaintiff originally filed this suit in the
Superior Court of California for the County of San Francisco.
See ECF No. 1. In January 2017, the Defendants
removed the case to federal court, alleging that the Class
Action Fairness Act provided this Court with original
jurisdiction. Id. On February 16, 2017, the
Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand. Plaintiff argues removal
is proper because the $ 5 million amount-in-controversy
requirement has not been met, and also because the judicial
estoppel doctrine requires the Court to remand the case. Mot.
at 3:3-16. Because the Court finds the judicial estoppel
doctrine applies here, the Court need not, and does not,
address the amount-in-controversy dispute.
defendant may remove a civil action filed in state court to
federal court so long as the district court could have
exercised original jurisdiction over the matter. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1441(a). “The ‘strong presumption against
removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the
burden of establishing that removal is proper . . .
.'” Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 583 F.3d
1039, 1042 (9th Circ. 2009) (quoting Gaus v. Miles,
980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992)). A plaintiff, however, may
seek to have a case remanded to the state court from which it
was removed if the district court lacks jurisdiction or if
there is a defect in the removal procedure. 28 U.S.C. §
1447(c). “Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if
there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first
instance.” Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566.
issue between the parties is whether the doctrine of judicial
estoppel requires the Court to remand the case back to state
court. “Judicial estoppel ‘is an equitable
doctrine invoked by a court at its discretion.'”
United States v. Ibrahim, 522 F.3d 1003, 1009 (9th
Cir. 2008) (quoting New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S.
742, 750 (2001). The purpose of judicial estoppel is to
“protect the integrity of the judicial process by
prohibiting parties from deliberately changing positions
according to the exigencies of the moment.” New
Hampshire, 532 U.S. at 749-50 (citations and internal
quotation marks omitted). In determining whether to apply
this doctrine, the Parties agree the Court must consider (1)
whether a party's later position is “clearly
inconsistent” with its earlier position; (2) whether
the party successfully persuaded a court to accept its
earlier positon; and (3) whether allowing the party's
inconsistent position allow the party to “derive an
unfair advantage or impose an unfair detriment on the
opposing party.” Ibrahim, 522 F.3d at 1009.
the Court finds that all three factors are met and weigh in
favor of remanding the case to state court. First, the
Defendants' position in Atik v. Welch Foods,
Inc., Case No. 15-CV-5405, 2016 WL 5678474 (E.D.N.Y.
Sept. 30, 2016), is “clearly inconsistent” with
removing the present case to federal court. In Atik,
the plaintiffs filed a putative class action against the very
same Defendants in this case, Welch Foods and PIM, seeking
monetary damages, restitution, and injunctive relief.
Id. at *1. The plaintiffs in Atik, like the
Plaintiff here, alleged that Defendants violated the CLRA and
the UCL because Defendants' product labeling of
Welch's Fruit Snacks misrepresented the fruit content and
nutritional and health qualities of the snacks. Id. In
that case, Defendants sought to dismiss plaintiffs' claim
for injunctive relief arguing that plaintiffs lacked Article
III standing because the plaintiffs “failed to allege a
likelihood of continuing or future injury.” ECF No.
19-1 at 38. In contrast to their position in Atik,
here, Defendants are seeking to remove this case to federal
court. But, as Defendants acknowledged in their Motion to
Dismiss in the Atik case, a plaintiff must have
Article III standing for a federal court to have jurisdiction
over a case. Id. at 36-37; see also Whitmore v.
Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 154-55 (1990) (“It is well
established . . . that before a federal court can consider
the merits of a legal claim, the person seeking to invoke the
jurisdiction of the court must establish the requisite
[Article III] standing to sue.”).
argue they have never taken a “clearly
inconsistent” position because the Plaintiff here was
not a named party in the Atik action; thus, they
have not taken any position on whether this Plaintiff has
standing in this case. ECF No. 21 at 12. Defendants also
argue that the application of judicial estoppel is
inappropriate when the alleged inconsistency stems from
legal, non-factual inconsistencies. Id. But these
arguments are wide of the mark. The Ninth Circuit has
explained that “all that's needed to satisfy this
first factor” is that “the [party] pressed a
claim in the earlier lawsuit that is inconsistent with the
position [the party] is taking in our case.”
Baughman v. Walt Disney World Co., 685 F.3d 1131,
1133 (9th Cir. 2012). Thus, the case law does not require
that the inconsistency occur within the same case. Moreover,
an inconsistent claim need not be factual, as the doctrine
has been applied to prevent a party from making a legal
assertion that contradicted its earlier legal assertion.
Baughman, 685 F.3d at 1133 (citation omitted);
see also Helfand v. Gerson, 105 F.3d 530 (9th Cir.
1997) (“[J]udicial estoppel applies to a party's
stated position, regardless of whether it is an expression of
intention, a statement of fact, or a legal
assertion.”). Here, where Defendants have previously
argued the Atik plaintiffs had no Article III
standing to pursue injunctive relief claims, it is clearly
inconsistent for Defendants to now seek removal of
Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief.
it is clear that the earlier court was successfully persuaded
by Defendants' earlier position. Indeed, the
Atik court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims for
injunctive relief finding they had no Article III standing.
Atik, 2016 WL 5678474 at *6. Defendants do not
contend this point. Thus, the second factor is met and weighs
in favor of applying judicial estoppel.
the Court finds that allowing the Defendants to put forth
their clearly inconsistent position here would permit them to
forum shop which constitutes an “unfair
advantage.” See Galitski v. Samsung Telecomms. Am.,
LLC, Case No. 8:CV-12-00903-CJC(JPRx), 2012 WL 12830000,
at *3 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 21, 2012) (finding forum shopping to be
unfair and an abuse of the judicial process). This Court
finding, too, is clearly supported by Ninth Circuit case law.
In Baughman, the court found an unfair advantage
existed when a party's inconsistent statement would make
her claim “significantly stronger.”
Baughman, 685 F.3d at 1134. Here, in contrast to
Baughman, allowing the Defendants to remove the case
to federal court would allow them to seek an outright
dismissal of the injunctive relief claim for lack of Article
III standing or for the Court to ...