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Sonner v. Premier Nutrition Corp.

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

December 3, 2019, Argued and Submitted, San Francisco, California; August 20, 2020, Amended

No. 18-15890

Opinion

 [*837]  BADE, Circuit Judge:

On the brink of trial after more than four years of litigation, Plaintiff-Appellant Kathleen Sonner voluntarily dismissed her sole state law damages claim and chose to proceed with only state law equitable claims for restitution and injunctive relief. A singular and strategic purpose drove this maneuver: to try the class action as a bench trial rather than to a jury. Indeed, Sonner continued to seek $32,000,000 on behalf of the consumers she represented, but as equitable restitution rather than as damages. But, to Sonner's dismay, the plan backfired when, relying on its interpretation of California law, the district court dismissed her claims for restitution because an adequate remedy at law, i.e., damages, was available.

] Pursuant to Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938), and Guaranty Trust Co. of New York v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 65 S. Ct. 1464, 89 L. Ed. 2079 (1945), we hold that federal courts must apply equitable principles derived from federal common law to claims for equitable restitution under California's Unfair Competition Law ("UCL") and Consumers Legal Remedies Act ("CLRA").

 [**4] I

In March 2013, Vincent Mullins filed a putative class action regarding "Joint Juice," a nutritional product manufactured, marketed, and sold by Defendant-Appellee Premier Nutrition Corporation ("Premier"). After substituting as the proposed class representative and named plaintiff, Sonner amended the complaint in September 2014. In April 2016, the district court certified a class of all California consumers who had purchased Joint Juice since March 1, 2009.

The basis for the lawsuit is false advertising. In its marketing materials, Premier touts Joint Juice as a dietary supplement beverage that supports and nourishes cartilage, lubricates joints, and improves joint comfort.3 But, according to Sonner, Joint Juice fails to provide its advertised health benefits.

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971 F.3d 834 *; 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 26513 **

KATHLEEN SONNER, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellant v. PREMIER NUTRITION CORPORATION, FKA Joint Juice, Inc., Defendant-Appellee

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. D.C. No. 3:13-cv-01271-RS. Richard Seeborg, District Judge, Presiding.

Mullins v. Premier Nutrition Corp., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10810 (N.D. Cal., Jan. 23, 2018)Sonner v. Premier Nutrition Corp., 962 F.3d 1072, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 19063 (9th Cir. Cal., June 17, 2020)

Disposition: AFFIRMED.

CORE TERMS

equitable, restitution, diversity, injunction, dropped, inadequate-remedy-at-law

Antitrust & Trade Law, Trade Practices & Unfair Competition, State Regulation, Scope, Contracts Law, Remedies, Restitution, Civil Procedure, Federal & State Interrelationships, Federal Common Law, Applicability, Consumer Protection, Deceptive & Unfair Trade Practices, State Regulation, Deceptive Labeling & Packaging, Appeals, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, De Novo Review, Pleadings, Amendment of Pleadings, Leave of Court, Preliminary Considerations, Erie Doctrine, Jury Trials, Right to Jury Trial, Actions in Equity, Trials, Right to Jury Trial, Equity, Adequate Remedy at Law, Relief