On September 12, 2016, Southern District of California Judge Barry Moskowitz granted defendants’ motion to dismiss several of plaintiffs’ claims in the putative class action Hammock v. Nutramarks, Case No. 15cv2056 BTM (NLS).
Defendants manufacture, advertise, and distribute homeopathic products under the label “NatraBio.” Plaintiffs’ claims are based on an array of NatraBio products that defendants advertised as providing “fast acting symptom relief” and as “a natural alternative for every medicine cabinet.” The complaint alleged claims for misrepresentation, breach of warranty, and consumer protection, and also sought injunctive relief. Plaintiffs alleged that the products are not proven to relieve any symptoms;and that the product labels falsely claim that the products are made from “all natural” ingredients when they in fact contain one or more synthetic ingredients.
Judge Moskowitz first denied defendants’ motion to dismiss as to plaintiffs’ misrepresentation claims. Plaintiffs’ claims were based on two theories: (1) that the products were not effective and (2) that the products were not really “all natural.”
The court ruled that plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged that defendants’ products were ineffective. The complaint alleged that homeopathy in general is ineffective because the essential ingredients are hyper-diluted. The court found that, at this early stage of the proceedings, these allegations were sufficient to withstand defendants’ motion.
Plaintiffs’ “all natural” misrepresentation claims also survived the motion to dismiss. The court noted that plaintiffs had provided examples of defendants’ packaging that stated that the products were “Natural Homeopathic Medicine” made from “all natural” ingredients. Plaintiffs had also alleged that some of these products contained magnesium sterate or benzylkonium chloride, which plaintiffs claim are artificial ingredients. Judge Moskowitz stated that these allegations established that a reasonable consumer could have been deceived by these labels, and thus denied defendants’ motion as to the “all natural” claims.
Injunctive Relief Claims
However, the court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss with respect to plaintiffs’ claims for injunctive relief. The court noted that plaintiffs had failed to allege that they intended to purchase NatraBio products in the future; plaintiffs’ allegation that they believed the products were ineffective strongly indicated that plaintiffs would not purchase the products again. Plaintiffs therefore lacked standing to seek injunctive relief.
Punitive Damages Claim
Judge Moskowitz ruled that plaintiffs’ claims for punitive damages were sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. As the court noted, while California law requires a showing of “oppression, fraud, or malice” to support an award of punitive damages, Federal Rule 9(b) permits general allegations with respect to such states of mind. Accordingly, the court found that plaintiffs’ general allegation that defendants knew the products “could not ‘live up to the promised advertising’” was sufficiently pled.
Finally, the court turned to plaintiffs’ claims for breach of warranty under both California and Florida law. Although the court denied the motion to dismiss with respect to the Florida law express warranty claim, the court dismissed plaintiffs’ implied warranty claims under both California and Florida law.
California law requires privity of contract in a claim for breach of implied warranty. Plaintiffs argued that the requirement did not apply because there is an exception for “foodstuffs.” Judge Moskowitz disagreed, finding that because the products did not injure plaintiffs—in that they were fit for human consumption—the “foodstuffs” exception did not apply. Accordingly, he dismissed their California law implied warranty claim.
Plaintiffs’ Florida law implied warranty fared no better because Florida also requires privity of contract for implied warranty claims. Plaintiffs failed to allege privity so the court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss.