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Hodsdon v. Mars, Inc.

United States District Court for the Northern District of California

February 17, 2016, Decided; February 17, 2016, Filed

Case No. 15-cv-04450-RS

Opinion

 [*1019]  ORDER GRANTING MARS INC.'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE COMPLAINT

I. INTRODUCTION

That children and forced laborers [**2]  pick cocoa beans on a daily basis is indisputably an international tragedy. The debatable question is whether defendants Mars, Inc., and Mars Chocolate North America, LLC, must inform consumers at the point of sale that Mars chocolate products likely contain cocoa beans picked under such conditions. Plaintiff Robert Hodsdon claims that California law obligates Mars to disclose that information on its labels and seeks to mandate such disclosure. To that end, he has filed three claims against Mars for violations of the Unfair Competition Law ("UCL"), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 et seq. (Claim 1); the Consumers Legal Remedies Act ("CLRA"), Cal. Civ. Code § 1750 et seq. (Claim 2); and the False Advertising Law ("FAL"), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §17500 et seq. (Claim 3).

Mars contends that Hodsdon does not have standing to pursue these claims, and even if he does, that California law does not mandate such disclosures at the point of sale. Mars also argues that Hodsdon has not pleaded facts sufficiently to establish a violation of the UCL. Finally, it insists that, if California law requires disclosure of the labor practices of a manufacturer's suppliers, then that mandatory disclosure violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

 [*1020]  The terrible reality of labor practices in the cocoa fields of Côte d'Ivoire notwithstanding, [**3]  the FAL, UCL, and CLRA do not require the disclosure Hodsdon seeks. While Hodsdon has shown he has standing to bring these claims, the FAL does not provide the relief he requests, the claim accordingly may not proceed. Because Mars has no duty to disclose this information at the point of sale, Hodsdon's claims under the CLRA and the "unlawful" and "fraudulent" prongs of the UCL similarly may not advance. Finally, the business practice to which Hodsdon objects—non-disclosure of information about its supply chain—is not "unfair" within the meaning of the UCL. There appears to be no possible method to cure these deficiencies, and therefore Hodsdon will not have leave to amend the complaint. Because Mars did not have a duty to disclose information about child labor in its supply chain, there is no need to address whether the safe harbor rule protects it from liability or whether Hodsdon's proposed mandatory disclosure would violate the First Amendment.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY1

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162 F. Supp. 3d 1016 *; 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19268 **

ROBERT HODSDON, Plaintiff, v. MARS, INC., et al., Defendants.

Subsequent History: Affirmed by Hodsdon v. Mars, Inc., 891 F.3d 857, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 15013 (9th Cir. Cal., June 4, 2018)

Prior History: Barber v. Nestl USA, Inc., 154 F. Supp. 3d 954, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170608 (C.D. Cal., Dec. 9, 2015)

CORE TERMS

consumers, chocolate, cocoa, chain, disclose, unfair, products, omission, courts, disclosure, quotation, labels, marks, duty to disclose, forced labor, safe harbor, manufacturers, misleading, business practice, fraudulent, beans, judicial notice, labor practice, misrepresentation, trafficking, farms, defective product, child labor, requests, prong

Civil Procedure, Pleadings, Heightened Pleading Requirements, Fraud Claims, Complaints, Requirements for Complaint, Mistake, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Amendment of Pleadings, Leave of Court, Antitrust & Trade Law, Consumer Protection, Preliminary Considerations, Justiciability, Standing, Constitutional Law, Case or Controversy, Standing, Elements, Regulated Practices, Trade Practices & Unfair Competition, State Regulation, Consumer Protection, False Advertising, Deceptive & Unfair Trade Practices, State Regulation, Scope