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Webb v. Trader Joe's Co.

United States District Court, S.D. California

October 29, 2019

CHRISTINA WEBB, on behalf of herself, all others similarly situated, and the general public, Plaintiff,


          Hon. Cathy Ann Bencivengo, United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. [Doc. No. 9.] The motion has been fully briefed and the Court finds it suitable for determination on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See S.D. Cal. CivLR 7.1(d)(1). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Christina Webb filed this putative consumer class action complaint against Defendant Trader Joe's in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, on July 10, 2019 [Doc. No. 1-2], and Defendant removed the action to this Court on August 23, 2019. [Doc. No. 1.] The complaint asserts claims for violation of California's Consumer Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”), California Civil Code § 1750 et seq.; violation of California's Unfair Competition Law (the “UCL”), California Business & Professions Code § 17200 et seq.; violation of California's False Advertising Law (the “FAL”), California Business & Professions Code § 17500 et seq.; Breach of Express and Implied Warranties; Theft by False Pretenses; and Unjust Enrichment/Money Had and Received. [Doc. No. 1-2 at ¶¶ 120-251.[2]

         Defendant markets, sells, and distributes a variety of Trader Joe's branded raw poultry products, including the “All Natural Boneless Chicken Breasts, ” “All Natural Chicken Thighs, ” and “All Natural Chicken Wings” (the “Products.”). [Id. at ¶ 6.] According to the complaint, the Products are false and misleading because the Products claim to contain up to 5% retained water when they actually contain far greater amounts of retained water (as much as 16%) for which California consumers are unlawfully charged. [Id. at ¶ 7.] Plaintiff alleges she purchased the Products from several Trader Joe's locations in San Diego County, California, which contained excess retained water above the amount the Products declared and therefore Plaintiff paid more for the products than they were worth. [Id. at ¶ 12.] After sampling and analyzing Products offered for sale at supermarkets in Northern California, Plaintiff found that the Products were routinely economically adulterated with excess retained water far greater than that declared on the Product labels. [Id. at ¶ 13.]

         Plaintiff seeks to represent a Nationwide class and California sub-class of consumers who purchased the Products during the class period. [Id. at ¶¶ 118, 119.] The complaint's prayer for relief requests, among other things, an order enjoining Defendant to cease packaging, advertising, and selling the Products; re-label or recall all existing Products; conduct a corrective advertising campaign; and an award of restitution and damages for Plaintiff and the class. [Id. at ¶ 15.]


         A. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), any party may move for judgment on the pleadings at any time after the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A motion for judgment on the pleadings must be evaluated under the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(6). See Enron Oil Trading & Trans. Co. v. Walbrook Ins. Co., Ltd., 132 F.3d 526, 529 (9th Cir. 1997). Thus, the standard articulated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) applies to a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Lowden v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 378 Fed.Appx. 693, 694 (9th Cir. 2010) (“To survive a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) motion, a plaintiff must allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face'” (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 544)). When deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court assumes the allegations in the complaint are true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro v. Lerner, 31 F.3d 924, 928 (9th Cir. 1994). A judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when, even if all the allegations in the complaint are true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Milne ex rel. Coyne v. Stephen Slesinger, Inc., 430 F.3d 1036, 1042 (9th Cir. 2005).

         B. Preemption

         The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution empowers Congress to make federal laws that preempt state law. Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena, 592 F.3d 954, 960 (9th Cir. 2010). “Federal preemption occurs when: (1) Congress enacts a statute that explicitly preempts state law; (2) state law actually conflicts with federal law; or (3) federal law occupies a legislative field to such an extent that it is reasonable to conclude that Congress left no room for state regulation in that field.” Chae v. SLM Corp., 593 F.3d 936, 941 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Tocher v. City of Santa Ana, 219 F.3d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 2000), abrogated on other grounds)). Federal preemption can be either express or implied. See Fid. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. de la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 152-53 (1982). Express preemption exists when a statute explicitly addresses preemption. See Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc. v. Napolitano, 558 F.3d 856, 863 (9th Cir. 2009).

         A court's preemption analysis is guided by two principles. “First, there is a presumption against supplanting ‘the historic police powers of the States' by federal legislation ‘unless that [is] the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.'” Gordon v. Virtumundo, Inc., 575 F.3d 1040, 1060 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Medtronic v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470, 485 (1996)). As a result, express preemption clauses should be narrowly construed. Gordon, 575 F.3d at 1060. Second, Congress's purpose “‘is the ultimate touchstone in every preemption case.'” Gordon, 575 F.3d at 1060 (quoting Medtronic, 518 U.S. at 485). Thus, courts must analyze the language of the statute and the overall statutory scheme. Gordon, 575 F.3d at 1060.


         At the motion to dismiss stage a court may consider materials incorporated into the complaint or matters of public record, without converting the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Coto Settlement v. Eisenberg., 593 F.3d 1031, 1038 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted); see also Federal Rules of Evidence 201(b): “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 ...

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