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Martinelli v. Johnson & Johnson

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 22, 2017

JOANN MARTINELLI, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,



         Through this class action, Plaintiff Joann Martinelli (“Plaintiff”), individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, seeks relief from Defendants Johnson & Johnson and McNeil Nutritionals, LLC (collectively “Defendants”) arising from the labeling and sale of Benecol Regular and Light Spreads (“Benecol Spreads”). Plaintiff alleges eight causes of action: (1) breach of express warranty, (2) breach of implied warranty of merchantability, (3) unjust enrichment, (4) violation of California's Consumers Legal Remedies Act, (5) violation of California's Unfair Competition Law, (6) violation of California's False Advertising Law, (7) negligent misrepresentation, and (8) fraud. First Am. Compl. (“FAC”), ECF No. 9.

         Presently before the court are two motions: Defendants' Motion to Deny Nationwide Class Certification or in the alternative, to Strike Nationwide Class Allegations (“Defendants' Motion”) (ECF No. 45), and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Class Action Complaint (“Plaintiff's Motion”) (ECF No. 46). Both parties filed timely oppositions and replies to each motion. ECF Nos. 47, 48, 52, 54. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED and Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.[1]

         BACKGROUND [2]

         Defendants manufactured, marketed, and sold their Benecol Spreads throughout California and other states. The front labels provide that the product has “no trans fats” and the back labels state the product has “no trans fatty acids.” Artificial trans fats are a product of a process called partial hydrogenation and are integral to partially hydrogenated oils. Plaintiff cites to a 2015 FDA report concluding that hydrogenated oils may not be safe for human consumption, and other studies concluding that trans fats increase the risk of coronary heart disease and other adverse health effects.

         Plaintiff contends she purchased Benecol Spreads for personal use in California after she reviewed the products' labels and believed them to be true. Plaintiff claims the representations on the labels led her to believe the Benecol Spreads contained neither trans fats nor trans fatty acids, and that the spreads were therefore safe for human consumption. Plaintiff alleges she relied on these representations and warranties in deciding to buy the Benecol Spreads, and asserts she would not have purchased the spreads if she knew they contained trans fats or trans fatty acids. Plaintiff further alleges she paid a premium for the Benecol Spreads and understood the purchase to be a transaction between herself and Defendants.

         According to Plaintiff, the Benecol Spreads necessarily contain trans fats because they contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Thus, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants' labels on the Benecol Spreads are false and misleading. Finally, Plaintiff alleges the incorrect labels led consumers to distinguish Benecol Spreads from other similar products, and allowed Defendants to charge a premium for their products.

         Pursuant to her FAC, Plaintiff seeks to represent both a nationwide class and a California subclass of individuals who purchased Benecol Spreads for personal use. This Court issued a Pretrial Scheduling Order (“PTSO”) on March 7, 2016. ECF No. 25. That order provides: “No joinder of parties or amendments to pleadings is permitted without leave of court, good cause having been shown.” Id. at 1. While discovery was ongoing, Defendants filed the present Motion to Deny Class Certification. Plaintiff thereafter sought leave to file a Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) proposing to add a representative plaintiff from New York, a New York subclass, and two claims arising under New York law.


         A. Class Certification

         A court may certify a class if a plaintiff demonstrates that all of the prerequisites of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)[3] have been met, and that at least one of the requirements of Rule 23(b) has been met. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 23; Valentino v. Carter-Wallace, Inc., 97 F.3d 1227, 1234 (9th Cir. 1996). Before certifying a class, the trial court must conduct a “rigorous analysis” to determine whether the party seeking certification has met the prerequisites of Rule 23. Valentino, 97 F.3d at 1233. While the trial court has broad discretion to certify a class, its discretion must be exercised within the framework of Rule 23. Zinser v. Accufix Research Inst., Inc., 253 F.3d 1180, 1186 (9th Cir. 2001).

         Rule 23(a) provides four prerequisites that must be satisfied for class certification:

         (1) the class must be so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) questions of law or fact exist that are common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and

         (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a). Rule 23(b) requires a plaintiff to establish one of the following: (1) that there is a risk of substantial prejudice from separate actions; (2) that declaratory or injunctive relief benefitting the class as a whole would be appropriate; or (3) that common questions of law or fact ...

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