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Davis v. Hain Celestial Group, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

April 3, 2018

JOSH DAVIS, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
THE HAIN CELESTIAL GROUP, INC; and HAIN BLUEPRINT, INC., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Allyne R. Ross United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Josh Davis brings this putative class action against The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (“Celestial”) and Hain BluePrint, Inc. (“BluePrint”) on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, seeking monetary and injunctive relief. He alleges that defendants, which manufacture and sell juice, have engaged in deceptive product labeling in violation of N.Y. General Business Law sections 349 and 350. Plaintiff also brings claims for fraudulent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment based on the same alleged conduct. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. In addition, defendants argue that the unjust enrichment claim must also be dismissed because it duplicates the other claims in the complaint. Finally, defendants argue that plaintiff lacks standing to seek injunctive relief. For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         BluePrint-a wholly owned subsidiary of Celestial Group-manufactures personal-sized juices and sells them to third-party sellers and directly to consumers. First Amended Complaint ¶ 3, ECF No. 11 (“Compl.”). The two BluePrint product lines at issue in this case are their “BluePrint Cold Pressed” juices and their “BluePrint Organic” juices (individually, the “Cold-Pressed Line” and the “Organic Line”; collectively, the “Products”). Id. ¶¶ 2-3 & n.1.

         Plaintiff bought two BluePrint beverages in 2016. Id. ¶¶ 90, 93. First, he bought a juice from the Cold-Pressed Line for roughly $7.99 at a local store. Id. ¶ 90. The front label said “beet, apple, carrot, lemon, ginger” and “raw.” Id. ¶¶ 90-91. The side label listed the ingredients (in order of weight[1]) as “organic apple, organic carrot, organic beet, filtered water, organic lemon and organic ginger.” Id. ¶ 65. Plaintiff alleges that the label led him to believe that the product was cold-pressed and raw, and-because beet was listed first on the front label and because the beverage itself was red-that the drink was predominantly made of beet juice (allegedly the most expensive ingredient). Id. ¶¶ 65, 91-92. Second, he purchased a juice from the Organic Line, titled “Lemon Yay, ” for roughly $2.99 at a local store. Id. ¶ 93. The back label stated that the beverage was “crafted with cold pressed juice.” Id. Plaintiff contends that he relied on these representations in purchasing both drinks. Id. ¶¶ 91, 93.

         Plaintiff filed the operative complaint in December 2017. Id. The complaint brings claims for (1) deceptive commercial practices and false advertising in violation of N.Y. General Business Law sections 349 and 350, id. ¶¶ 97-107, (2) fraudulent misrepresentation, id. ¶¶ 108-20, and (3) unjust enrichment, id. ¶¶ 121-22. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that labels would mislead a reasonable consumer and that he, in fact, was misled. Id. ¶¶ 99-106. Further, he alleges that defendants had an affirmative duty to disclose that “the Products were processed” and that “their definition of a raw product excludes products which are fresh.” Id. ¶ 110. Finally, he alleges that defendants improperly obtained profits that they must disgorge to the plaintiff and class members. Id. ¶ 122.

         Plaintiff's proposed class is “all consumers in all states who purchased any Products bearing any of the actionable representations [described in the Complaint] . . . during the statute of limitation periods.” Id. ¶ 77. According to plaintiff, the Products share some or all of the following characteristics, which he alleges are fraudulent and misleading. Id. ¶ 4.

         First, the Cold-Pressed Line uses the terms “Cold Pressed Juice” or “Cold Pressed Juice Beverage” on the front label. Id.[2] “Cold Pressed” also appears on one of the side panels, under which it says that “[t]he BluePrintMethod applies tons of hydraulic pressure to get the most out of our organic fruits and vegetables.” Id. ¶ 52; Request for Judicial Notice in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss Class Action Compl., Ex. F, ECF No. 15-8 (“Label Example”).[3] Second, the Cold-Pressed Line uses the term “raw” on the front label, where it appears in a green circle that says “raw and organic, ” Compl. ¶ 65, and on the back label, which says that “drinking raw juice” helps maintain good health. Label Example. Third, the Cold-Pressed Line uses the term “Manifreshto” on the back label, id. ¶ 48, which is followed by “the simple rules [BluePrint] live[s] by.” Label Example. One of those rules is that “[j]uice should never be cooked. Cooking juice reduces vitamins and live enzymes. Even ‘flash' pasteurized means cooked.” Compl. ¶ 46; Label Example. Fourth, the Cold-Pressed Line includes a vertical list of ingredients on the front label in large, bold text. Compl. ¶ 65; Label Example. The ingredients on the front label are not listed in the same order as they are on the side label. Compl. ¶¶ 65-66. For example, one juice says “arugula kale apple romaine celery cucumber lemon ginger” on the front label. Id. ¶ 65. On the side label, under the nutrition facts, it says: “Ingredients: organic juice from: organic vegetables (organic romaine, organic celery, organic arugula, organic cucumbers, organic kale), organic apple, organic ginger, organic lemon.” Id.; Label Example. Fifth, the Organic Line's back label says that it is “crafted with cold pressed juice, ” which plaintiff alleges is impossible for a beverage containing only citrus juices. Compl. ¶¶ 21-34, 68-69.

         Plaintiff alleges that the Cold-Pressed Line is made in the following way: First, the individual ingredients are “cold-press[ed].” Id. ¶ 9. “Cold pressing” means that several thousand pounds of pressure are applied to fruits and/or vegetables to extract their juice. Id. ¶ 10. This is in contrast to the traditional “centrifugal” method, in which spinning blades reduce the produce to juice. Id. The traditional method's spinning blades create heat that negatively affects the enzymatic and nutritional content of the end product. Id. Cold pressing avoids that effect. Id.

         Juice that is cold pressed has a shelf life of three to five days. Id. ¶¶ 10, 13. To extend that shelf life beyond five days, comply with federal regulation, and kill potential bacteria, BluePrint subjects the juice to an additional round of pressure. Id. ¶¶ 15-16; Defs.' MTD 3-4.[4] This process is called “high pressure pascalization” and it does not involve heat (unlike pasteurization, another method of preservation). Defs.' MTD 3-4. Once the juice has undergone this second round of pressure, it has a shelf life of six weeks. See Compl. ¶ 36; see also Defs.' MTD 4.

         According to plaintiff, FDA regulations require that low-acid foods (i.e., those having a total pH of greater than 4.6) undergo heat processing. Compl. ¶ 18. Many of defendants' juice ingredients have pHs over 4.6, including beets, arugula, and kale. Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff alleges that defendants avoid the requirement for heat processing by acidifying their products with lemon juice until the total pH is 4.6 or less. Id. ¶ 19-21 & n.5, 35 (noting that each ingredients list contains “organic juice from . . . organic lemon” or “organic lemon juice”).[5] Further, plaintiff states that lemon juice cannot be obtained through cold pressing, in part because doing so would lead to “imprecise quantities” of peel and peel oil in the juice, which would in turn affect the flavor. Id. ¶ 23. Once the lemon juice is extracted, plaintiff says, it is pasteurized to “stabiliz[e]” it. Id. ¶ 30. According to plaintiff, “[i]t is probable that defendants use lemon juice from third parties.” Id. ¶ 34.

         In January 2018, defendants filed their motion to dismiss. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 15. They argue principally that the complaint fails to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Defendants also argue that plaintiff's unjust enrichment claim must be dismissed as duplicative of the other claims in the complaint. Defs.' MTD 15-16. According to defendants, an unjust enrichment claim is not available under New York law “where it simply duplicates . . . a conventional contract or tort claim.” Id. (quoting Corsello v. Verizon New York, Inc., 967 N.E.2d 1177, 1185 (N.Y. 2012)). Lastly, defendants argue that plaintiff lacks standing to seek injunctive relief, because there is no danger that he will be deceived by defendants' alleged misrepresentations again in the future. Id. at 16-17.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. In addition, they move to dismiss plaintiff's request for injunctive relief for lack of standing. For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is granted in part and denied in part. Defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's request for injunctive relief for lack of standing is granted.

         I. Rule 12(b)(6)

         On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Lundy v. Catholic Health Sys. of Long Island Inc., 711 F.3d 106, 113 (2d Cir. 2013). In deciding defendants' motion to dismiss, the court must therefore accept the facts alleged in plaintiff's amended complaint as true. The complaint's allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Only “a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” LaFaro v. N.Y. Cardiothoracic Grp., 570 F.3d 471, 476 (2d Cir. 2009). Thus, courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.

         A. N.Y. General Business Law ...


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