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Obesity Research Institute, LLC v. Fiber Research International, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 23, 2017

OBESITY RESEARCH INSTITUTE, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
FIBER RESEARCH INTERNATIONAL, LLC, et al., Defendants. AND RELATED COUNTERCLAIM.

          ORDER OVERRULING ORI'S OBJECTION TO MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S MAY 12, 2016 ORDER [ECF NO. 264]

          Hon. Cynthia Bashant United States District Judge.

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Obesity Research Institute, LLC's (“ORI”) meritless objection to the magistrate judge's May 12, 2016 Order. The objection specifically addresses Defendant Fiber Research International, LLC's (“FRI”) First Amended Request for Admission (“RFA”) No. 19, which was worded as follows:

Admit that YOUR ADVERTISING CLAIMS OF CLINICAL PROOF OF WEIGHT/FAT LOSS for Lipozene during the STATUTORY PERIOD were intended to influence consumers to purchase Lipozene.

         (Persinger Decl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 210-3.) ORI responded to RFA No. 19 with the following:

ORI is unable to admit or deny the request as phrased because it is misleading to separate out a single statement from a larger or overall advertisement, or indeed from an overall advertising campaign. ORI admits that advertising by definition, including its own advertising, is intended to inform consumers[.]

         (Persinger Decl. Ex. 2, ECF No. 210-4.) The magistrate judge determined that ORI failed to answer the question posed, explaining that “[t]he question was whether the advertising was intended to ‘influence' customers, not ‘inform.'” (May 12, 2016 Order 4:14-21.) He ultimately concluded that the answer is evasive and insufficient under Rule 36(a)(4), and deemed the request admitted. (Id.)

         For the following reasons, the Court OVERRULES ORI's objection in its entirety.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         A party may object to a non-dispositive pretrial order of a magistrate judge within fourteen days after service of the order. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a). The magistrate judge's order will be upheld unless it is “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Id; 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). The “clearly erroneous” standard applies to factual findings and discretionary decisions made in connection with non-dispositive pretrial discovery matters. F.D.I.C. v. Fid & Deposit Co. of Md, 196 F.R.D. 375, 378 (S.D. Cal. 2000); Joiner v. Hercules, Inc., 169 F.R.D. 695, 697 (S.D. Ga. 1996) (reviewing magistrate judge's order addressing attorney-client issues in discovery for clear error). Review under this standard is “significantly deferential, requiring a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Concrete Pipe & Prods. of Cal., Inc. v. Constr. Laborers Pension Tr. of S. Cal., 508 U.S. 602, 623 (1993) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         On the other hand, the “contrary to law” standard permits independent review of purely legal determinations by a magistrate judge. See, e.g., Haines v. Liggett Grp., Inc., 975 F.2d 81, 91 (3d Cir. 1992) (“[T]he phrase ‘contrary to law' indicates plenary review as to matters of law”); Gandee v. Glaser, 785 F.Supp. 684, 686 (S.D. Ohio 1992), affd, 19 F.3d 1432 (6th Cir. 1994); 12 Charles A. Wright,, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3069 (2d ed, 2010 update). “Thus, [the district court] must exercise its independent judgment with respect to a magistrate judge's legal conclusions.” Gandee, 785 F.Supp. at 686. “A decision is contrary to law if it fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law, or rules of procedure.” United States v. Cathcart, No. C 07-4762 PJH, 2009 WL 1764642, at *2 (N.D. Cal. June 18, 2009).

         II. ANALYSIS[1]

         ORI presents three general arguments in support of its objection: (1) RFA No. 19 “impermissibly” seeks a legal conclusion under the contrary-to-law standard; (2) ORI's response is “literally compliant”; and (3) ordering a further response was the appropriate remedy and not deeming the request admitted. The latter two arguments are brought under the clearly-erroneous standard. These arguments all lack merit.

         A. RFA No. 19 Does Not Seek a Legal Conclusion.

         In arguing RFA No. 19 seeks a legal conclusion, ORI explains that the request “attempt[s] to improperly use RFA No. 19 to establish an element of its [Section 43(a)] claim [under the Lanham Act]-proving materiality by proxy.” (ORI's Objection 5:24-7:14.) As ORI points out, one of the elements of a Section 43(a) claim for false advertising is that “the deception is material, in that it is likely to ...


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