A federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) court in Maryland has dismissed without prejudice the consolidated amended complaint filed by eight named plaintiffs after their separate, putative class actions alleging consumer fraud in the advertising and labeling of GNC dietary supplements containing glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate were transferred to the court. In re GNC Corp. Triflex Prods. Mktg. & Sales Practices Litig., MDL No. 14-2491 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Md., order entered June 20, 2014). According to the court, the plaintiffs have not sufficiently stated a claim to relief plausible on its face under the standards established in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), for the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct.
The plaintiffs alleged that 12 studies have concluded that glucosamine and chondroitin are no better than a placebo in treating symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee, hip or lower back. They also claimed that “‘experts in the field’ consider these studies to be an effective proxy for measuring the ability of glucosamine and chondroitin to improve the health and performance of joints in non-arthritic consumers.” Because the plaintiffs have not alleged that “experts in the field” would testify that any reasonable expert would reach this conclusion and because they have not alleged that the clinical trial on which the defendants rely does not exist, or does not support GNC’s product representations, or exists and supports the label claims but was not conducted “in an appropriately scientific manner,” the court characterized the matter as a mere “battle of the experts” that is insufficient “to establish that defendants’ advertisements violate the state consumer protection statutes in this case.”
In this regard the court stated, “Disagreements between experts, even under the ‘reasonable degree of scientific certainty’ standard, are to be expected. In my judgment, however, the fact that one set of experts may disagree with the opinions expressed by other qualified experts does not ipso facto establish any violation of the applicable consumer protection laws.” The court allowed the plaintiffs to file an amended consolidated complaint “if they can do so in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 11,” a rule that imposes sanctions on attorneys who sign and file frivolous pleadings.
So ruling, the court declined to address the defendants’ challenge to the plaintiffs’ standing to assert claims as to products whose labels they did not read or claims under the laws of states other than those in which they made their purchases.