While a federal court in New Jersey determined Article III standing in the plaintiff’s favor, it has dismissed, without prejudice, putative class claims that the Vitamin Shoppe’s labeling and advertising of a dietary supplement product—“True Athlete Training Formula”—violate state consumer-fraud laws. Hodges v. Vitamin Shoppe, Inc., No. 13-3381 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D.N.J., decided January 15, 2014).
The defendant apparently argued that the plaintiff cannot establish that he sustained an injury-in-fact based on the mere purchase of a product, contending that the complaint fails to allege that he ingested the supplement or, when using it, was “disappointed by its underperformance and/or failure to provide the promised enhancement to his exercise routine.” Because “[t]his is not a personal injury action,” the court found that the alleged economic loss was sufficient to establish Article III standing.
The court agreed with the defendant that the complaint failed to adequately plead consumer fraud, stating, “The principal deficiency in Plaintiff’s claim lies in the Complaint’s lack of factual allegations specifying how or why the statements made on the Product label and on Vitamin Shoppe’s website were false or deceptive. The Complaint fails to state with plausibility, much less particularity, that the statements violate the Consumer Fraud Act.”The court further observed, “The Complaint recites various scientific studies concerning the efficacy of the active ingredients to perform various functions in the body. However, their findings, as described by the Complaint, are by and large inap- posite to the crucial assertion that Vitamin Shoppe’s representations about the Product’s benefits are false.” As well, the court found that the basis for the plaintiff’s allegations that the product representations are false “requires a leap from the existing scientific research” and “this leap is made through nothing but speculation.”
The court further rejected the plaintiff’s “prior substantiation theory,” that is, the “allegations of falsity are rooted in the lack of prior substantiation that the benefits are possible at the Product’s dosage of active ingredients.” According to the court, this is not a viable theory under New Jersey law. The court outlined the types of allegations that the plaintiff must make in an amended complaint to cure his pleading deficiencies as to the consumer fraud, express warranty, implied warranty, and unjust enrichment claims.