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Allen v. Conagra Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

October 15, 2019

ERIN ALLEN, et al., Plaintiffs,


          William H. Orrick United States District Judge

         This case is about the allegedly misleading calorie count listed on the label of Conagra Brands, Inc.'s product Parkay Spray. Although California plaintiff Erin Allen initiated this action in 2013, the non-California named plaintiffs whose claims are before me now became part of it only one year ago. In the wake of my order denying certification of a nationwide class, Conagra asks that I reconsider my decision to exercise pendent personal jurisdiction over the claims by non-California named plaintiffs. I agree that reconsideration is necessary. For the reasons set forth below, I will dismiss the claims of the non-California named plaintiffs and decertify the classes they represented.


         This case has a lengthy background that I have outlined in several prior orders. Here I will detail the information necessary to understand where the case and the parties find themselves now. On March 21, 2013, plaintiff Erin Allen filed a complaint proposing a nationwide putative class of people who purchased Parkay Spray believing it to be a fat- and calorie-free alternative to butter. After a series of orders by judges who were previously assigned to this case, it was stayed pending Ninth Circuit decisions on certain issues in other cases. See Dkt. Nos. 41, 150, 152. I granted the parties' stipulation to lift the stay at the end of 2017, and in September 2018 I granted Allen's motion for leave to amend her complaint to add seven additional named plaintiffs from states other than California. Dkt. Nos. 171, 213.

         On December 10, 2018, I denied in part Conagra's motion to dismiss. Motion to Dismiss Order (“MTD Order”) [Dkt. No. 231]. I rejected Conagra's argument that there was no personal jurisdiction over it when it came to the claims brought by non-California named plaintiffs. Id. at 4-13. First I addressed the argument that under the Supreme Court's decision in Bristol-Myers, the non-California named plaintiffs could not pursue their claims in California because there is no general jurisdiction over Conagra in this state. See Id. at 7-12; Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco Cty., 137 S.Ct. 1773 (2017). After describing the that decision, I addressed the two main arguments for why Bristol-Myers should not apply to the case before me: (i) the state v. federal court distinction and (ii) the mass v. class action distinction. I questioned the merit of the former distinction where jurisdiction was based on diversity rather than the presence of federal claims, but I determined that the latter distinction was sufficient. Id. at 8-10. The Supreme Court's decision rested on “settled principles regarding specific jurisdiction” and overturned no Ninth Circuit authority. See Id. at 11 (quoting Bristol-Myers, 137 S.Ct. at 1781). I concluded that “the Court could not have intended, in a sideways manner, to so drastically alter class action plaintiffs' ability to choose their forum.” Id. at 12. I further noted that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 requirements provided substantial safeguards for defendants. Id.

         I then proceeded to analyze whether there were grounds to assert personal jurisdiction over the nonresident named plaintiffs' claims.[1] Id. Relying on Action Embroidery Corp. v. Atl. Embroidery, Inc., 368 F.3d 1174 (9th Cir. 2004) and Sloan v. Gen. Motors LLC, 287 F.Supp.3d 840 (N.D. Cal. 2018), I decided to exercise pendent personal jurisdiction over them. MTD Order 12-12. I noted that Judge Chen had decided to exercise jurisdiction over the out-of-state named plaintiffs' claims because the case “was a putative nationwide class action and there would be only a de minimis burden on the defendant, who would otherwise face piecemeal litigation.” Id. at 13 (citing Sloan, 28 F.Supp.3d at 861-62).

         The plaintiffs then moved for class certification, and on June 22, 2019, I denied plaintiffs' motion to certify a nationwide class to pursue unjust enrichment claims. Class Certification Order [Dkt. No. 267] 11-13. I certified two multistate subclasses and four individual state classes. Id. at 42-43.

         On August 5, 2019, plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration, asking that I modify my Class Certification Order in three respects.[2] Dkt. No. 268. I called for a response from Conagra, and in that response Conagra not only opposed plaintiffs' request but also argued that I should reconsider my December 2018 Order denying its motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction over non-California named plaintiffs' claims. Dkt. No. 271.

         Seeing a need for additional briefing in light of the evolution of the case, I directed Conagra to file a motion for reconsideration. Dkt. No. 275. Conagra did so on September 4, 2019, and I heard argument on October 9, 2019. Motion for Reconsideration (“Mot.”) [Dkt. No. 276].


         Prior to entry of a final judgment, “any order or other decision . . . that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties . . . may be revised at any time.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). Rule 54(b) gives district courts “complete power over non-final orders and may vacate or revise them at any time, if doing so would be consonant with equity.” In re Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) Antitrust Litig., No. 14-CV-2058 JST, 2017 WL 2481782, at *5 (N.D. Cal. June 8, 2017); see also City of Los Angeles, Harbor Div. v. Santa Monica Baykeeper, 254 F.3d 882, 885 (9th Cir. 2001).


         Conagra argues that I should dismiss the claims by the non-California named plaintiffs and decertify the classes they represented. Without a nationwide class, pendent personal jurisdiction is no longer appropriate. Plaintiffs argue that my prior Order should stand, but even if I agree with Conagra that there is no personal jurisdiction, I should transfer the nonresidents' claims instead of dismissing them.

         I. ...

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