Law School Case Brief
Williams v. Gerber Prods. Co. - 552 F.3d 934 (9th Cir. 2008)
California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL), Cal. Bus. and Prof. Code § 17200 prohibits any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice. The false advertising law prohibits any unfair, deceptive, untrue, or misleading advertising. Cal. Bus. and Prof. Code § 17500. Any violation of the false advertising law necessarily violates the UCL. California's Consumer Legal Remedies Act prohibits unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Cal. Civ. Code § 1770. Claims under those California statutes are governed by the reasonable consumer test. Under the reasonable consumer standard, the plaintiffs must show that members of the public are likely to be deceived. The California Supreme Court has recognized that those laws prohibit not only advertising which is false, but also advertising which, although true, is either actually misleading or which has a capacity, likelihood or tendency to deceive or confuse the public.
Plaintiffs-appellants Nakia Williams and Rita Tabiu, who were the parents of small children, brought a class action against defendant-appellee Gerber Products Company (Gerber). An amended complaint alleged that Gerber deceptively marketed its "Fruit Juice Snacks" a food product developed for toddlers. The parents bought Gerber's Fruit Juice Snacks because they sought healthy snacks for their children and because they trusted the Gerber name. The complaint provided eight causes of action, including tort claims for misrepresentation and breach of warranty, as well as claims under California's Unfair Competition Law, and California's Consumer Legal Remedies Act. The district court granted Gerber's Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The district court found that Gerber's statements were not likely to deceive a reasonable consumer, particularly given that the ingredient list was printed on the side of the box and that the "nutritious" claim was non-actionable puffery. The parents appealed.
In plaintiff consumers' action alleging deceptive food product packaging, did the trial court err in granting defendant food manufacturer's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim?
The appellate court held that the district court erred in determining as a matter of law that the snacks packaging was not deceptive. The Court found that the facts of the case did not amount to the rare situation in which granting a motion to dismiss was appropriate because there were a number of features of the packaging the company used for its fruit juice snacks product which could have likely deceived a reasonable consumer. The product was called "fruit juice snacks," and the packaging pictured a number of different fruits, potentially suggesting falsely that those fruits or juices were contained in the product. Further, the statement that fruit juice snacks was made with fruit juice and other all natural ingredients could have been interpreted by consumers as a claim that all the ingredients in the product were natural, which appeared to be false. Therefore, the parents could have plausibly proved that a reasonable consumer would have been deceived by the snacks' packaging in violation of Cal. Bus. and Prof. Code § 17200, Cal. Bus. and Prof. Code § 17500, and Cal. Civ. Code § 1770. Consequently, the decision of the district court was reversed.
As for the standard of review: a dismissal for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) is reviewed de novo. All allegations of material fact in the complaint are taken by the appellate court as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.Did
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