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Beckman v. Arizona Canning Co., LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 9, 2019

WILLIAM BECKMAN and LINDA GANDARA, individuals, on behalf of themselves, and all persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
ARIZONA CANNING COMPANY, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company; and DOES 1 to 10 inclusive, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT [DOC. NO. 30]

          Hon. John A. Houston United States District Court

         Introduction

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Arizona Canning Company LLC's (“ACC” or “Defendant”) motion to dismiss Plaintiffs William Beckman and Linda Gandara's (“Plaintiffs) second amended complaint (“SAC”). Doc. No. 30. Defendant moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.”) 8, 9(b), 12(b)(1), and 12(b)(6). The motion has been fully briefed. Along with its motion to dismiss, Defendant filed a request for judicial notice. Doc. No. 30-2. Having considered the parties' submissions, oral argument and for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's request for judicial notice is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part and the motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         Background

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs purchased several cans in various sizes of Defendant's Sun Vista canned pinto beans. SAC at 3 ¶7. Sun Vista Beans are sold in 15 oz., 29 oz., 40 oz., and 108 oz. cans, as well as in an 8 pack of 15 oz. cans. Id. at 6. Each can of Sun Vista beans, regardless of size, lists water as the first ingredient within the nutrition facts panel, indicates a serving size of one-half cup (4 oz), includes the language "Heat and Serve", and displays an image of a bowl of whole plump beans as seen below. SAC at 8 ¶ 18.

         (Image Omitted)

         However, whole plump beans are not what the consumer sees when emptying the can's contents. Unlike the image advertised on the principal display panel, consumers receive mostly water, with a portion of beans fully submerged and undetectable at first sight. SAC at 12 ¶ 36-38.

         (Image Omitted)

         Plaintiffs allege that they relied on, and were misled by, the labeling and advertising displayed on the product's packaging, specifically (1) the image on the label portraying a bowl full of “plump and hardy pinto beans, with a glimmer of shine” and negligible water, (2) the nutrition facts panel, including the net weight, serving size, and number of servings per container, and (3) the size and fill of the opaque container. Plaintiffs claim that the Sun Vista bean labels are false and misleading, the information on the label is deceptive, and the use of water as a filler is concealed from consumers in violation of California's Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 et seq., False Advertising Law (“FAL”), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17500 et seq., and California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”), Cal. Civ. Code § 1750 et seq.

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs filed their initial complaint on October 11, 2016 in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego. Doc. No. 1-2. Defendant filed a timely notice of removal and moved to dismiss Plaintiff's initial complaint for failure to state a claim and failure to plead fraud-based claims with sufficient particularity. Doc. Nos. 1, 3. The Court granted Defendant's motion, with leave to amend, finding that Plaintiffs had not met the heightened pleading standard of Rule 9(b) . See Doc. No. 18; Beckman v. Arizona Canning Co., LLC, No. 16CV02792 JAH-BLM, 2017 WL 4227043 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 21, 2017). Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint identifying which variety of bean Plaintiffs purchased. See Doc. No. 19. Defendant again moved to dismiss, adding two additional grounds: (1) lack of standing pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and failure to state a plausible claim for relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8, 12(b)(1). In light of Defendant's compliance with the Federal Drug Administration's (“FDA”) regulation, labeling the ingredients in order of predominance, the Court found the pleadings insufficient with regards to why and/or how the alleged misconduct was misleading or deceptive. The Court further ruled that Plaintiffs did not plead facts indicating compliance with Cal. Civ. Code § 1782(a) requiring a pre-filing notice, and therefore were not entitled to damages under the CLRA. Doc. No. 27. The Court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) without prejudice. Plaintiffs timely filed the SAC. Doc. No. 29.

         Now before the Court is Defendant's request for judicial notice and motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' SAC pursuant to Rules 8, 9(b), 12(b)(1), and 12(b)(6) for: (1) failure to state a plausible claim for relief, (2) failure to plead fraudulent claims with sufficient particularity; (3) lack of standing under claim-specific state law requirements; and (4) failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Doc. No. 30.

         Legal Standard

         A. Rule 8

         To state a claim for relief, a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction” and “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1) & (2). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In order to satisfy “Rule 8(a)(2)'s threshold requirement that the ‘plain statement' possess enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief, '” plaintiff must plead allegations that suggest defendant is likely liable - allegations “merely consistent” with liability are insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545. The plausibility standard requires more than a mere possibility that defendant acted unlawfully - but less than a probability. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). A claim is facially plausible when a reasonable inference of liability can be drawn from the factual allegations. Id. A complaint that fails to meet this standard may be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Id.at 679.

         B. Rule 9(b)

         In addition, under Ninth Circuit case law, Rule 9(b) imposes a heightened, particularized pleading requirement on complaints alleging fraud. Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b). First, a plaintiff's claims must “state precisely the time, place, and nature of the misleading statements, misrepresentations, and specific acts of fraud.” Kaplan v. Rose, 49 F.3d 1363, 1370 (9th Cir. 1994); see also Vess v. Ciba-Geigy Corp., U.S.A., 317 F.3d 1097, 1106 (9th Cir. 2003) (a plaintiff must set forth the “who, what, when, where and how” of the alleged misconduct). Second, Rule 9(b) requires that the complaint “set forth an explanation as to why the statement or omission complained of was false or misleading.” Yourish v. California Amplifier, 191 F.3d 983, 993 (9th Cir. 1999)(quoting In re GlenFed Sec. Litig., 42 F.3d 1541, 1548 (9th Cir.1994) (en banc)).

         C. Rule 12(b)(1)

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), a party may move to dismiss an action for “lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). If jurisdiction is lacking, the dismissing court is deprived of any power to adjudicate the merits of the case. Hampton v. Pac. Inv. Mgmt. Co. LLC, 869 F.3d 844, 846 (9th Cir. 2017) (citing Wages v. I.R.S., 915 F.2d 1230, 1234 (9th Cir. 1990)). The burden of establishing jurisdiction rests upon the party asserting it. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994).

         “A Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack may be facial or factual.” Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000)). A facial attack challenges the allegations as insufficient on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction. Id. In reviewing a facial attack on the complaint, a district court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true and determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction has been established. Berkovitz v. United States, 486 U.S. 531, 540 (1988).

         D. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). Dismissal is warranted under 12(b)(6) where the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984); see Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989) (“Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law.”). Alternatively, a complaint may be dismissed where it presents a cognizable legal theory yet fails to plead essential facts under that theory. Robertson, 749 F.2d at 534. While a plaintiff need not give “detailed factual allegations, ” he must plead sufficient facts that, if true, “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545. The Court must determine whether the complaint alleges enough facts to state a claim for relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. For purposes of ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “accept[s] factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008). “Mere conclusions, ” however, “are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the complaint's framework, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 664.

         If a court determines that a complaint fails to state a claim, the court should grant leave to amend unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts. Jackson v. Carey, 353 F.3d 750, 758 (9th Cir. 2003). The court will only dismiss if “it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts” that would entitle plaintiff to relief. Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 n. 6 (8th Cir.1990) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

         Discussion

         A. Requests for Judicial Notice

         The court may consider facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint, documents relied upon but not attached to the complaint when authenticity is not contested, and matters of which the court takes judicial notice. Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688-89 (9th Cir. 2001). “The defendant may offer such a document, and the district court may treat such a document as part of the complaint, and thus may assume that its contents are true for purposes of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” United States v. Ritchie, 432 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2003). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence (“Fed. R. Evid.”) 201, the court may judicially notice a fact that is not subject to reasonable dispute because it: (1) is generally known within the trial court's territorial jurisdiction; or (2) can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned. The party requesting notice carries the burden of showing that the fact is a matter of common knowledge or that the accuracy of the source cannot be reasonably questioned. Fed. R. Evid. 201(b). If a relevant fact is reasonably contested, the evidence should be presented before the trier of fact to make the determination.

         ACC moves for judicial notice of three items including: (1) a search conducted through the USDA Branded Food Products Database identifying 15 different bean products listing “water” as the first ingredient in their canned pinto beans; (2) an article entitled Reading Food Labels from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Institute on Aging; and (3) an article entitled Reading the Ingredient Label: What to Look For from WebMD archives.

         1. USDA Branded Food Products Database[1] Profiles

         The USDA branded food products database (BFPD) is an online database hosted by the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library and is a result of a public-private partnership made up of food industry organizations, collegiate and international institutes, and research centers. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory, USDA Branded Food Products Documentation at 4, August 2018. Internet: https://ndb.nal .usda.gov/ndb/docs/BFPDBDoc.pdf. The information within the BFPD, including descriptions, nutrient data, serving size, and ingredients for each product is ...


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