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Date: 08-11-2019

Case Style:

Kathy Dumont v. Reily Foods Company; New England Coffee Company

Case Number: 18-2055

Judge: Kayatta

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on appeal from the District of Massachusetts (Suffolk County)

Plaintiff's Attorney: John T. Longo and Citadel Consumer Litigation, PC on brief
for appellant.

Defendant's Attorney: Timothy H. Madden, Donnelly, Conroy & Gelhaar, LLP, Mark A.
Cunningham, Thomas A. Casey, Jr., John R. Guenard, and Jones Walker
LLP, on brief for appellees.

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Defendant New England Coffee
Company, operating as a subsidiary of Reily Foods Company,1 sells
a "Hazelnut Crème" coffee. Kathy Dumont contends that she
purchased the coffee because she thought that a coffee styled
"Hazelnut Crème" contained some hazelnut. After learning that the
"Hazelnut Crème" coffee contained no hazelnut at all, Dumont
brought this putative class action challenging the coffee's
labeling as a violation of Massachusetts' consumer protection
laws. The district court dismissed the case for failure to meet
the heightened pleading standard of Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 9(b). For the following reasons, we reverse.
I.
We set out the facts as alleged in the complaint, but do
not credit "unsupported conclusions or assertions." U.S. ex rel.
Gagne v. City of Worcester, 565 F.3d 40, 42 (1st Cir. 2009). At
all times relevant to this case, the front label of the package
containing the Hazelnut Crème coffee described the coffee as
follows: "freshly ground," "100% Arabica Coffee," "Hazelnut
Crème," "Medium Bodied," and "Rich, Nutty Flavor." The ingredients
label on the back of the package provided the following list of
1 The defendants' brief confusingly claims both that Reily
Foods is a successor to New England Coffee Company and that New
England Coffee Company is Reily Foods' subsidiary. Which
description is correct makes no difference to this appeal.
- 3 -
ingredients: "100% Arabica Coffee Naturally and Artificially
Flavored." There is no image of a hazelnut anywhere on the bag.2
Kathy Dumont purchased in Massachusetts at least one
package of the Hazelnut Crème coffee labeled as described above.
Dumont alleges that she would not have purchased the coffee had
she known that it did not contain some hazelnut.
Suing individually and on behalf of a putative
nationwide class of allegedly similarly situated consumers, Dumont
claimed that the packaging was (1) an unfair and deceptive practice
under Massachusetts General Laws chapter 93A and (2) untrue and
misleading advertising under Massachusetts General Laws
chapter 266, section 91. In the alternative, Dumont claimed
unjust enrichment. The district court dismissed Dumont's
complaint without leave to amend. Citing Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 9(b), the court held that "the complaint offer[ed]
insufficient detail regarding the circumstances of plaintiff's
purchase" and that it therefore "fail[ed] to pass muster under the
relevant pleading standard." Dumont v. Reily Foods Co., No. CV
18-10907-RWZ, 2018 WL 4571656, at *1 (D. Mass. Sept. 24, 2018)
(record citation omitted).
2 Remarkably, neither party furnished us with a picture of
the label large enough to replicate in a legible form for the
reader. C.f., e.g., Kaufman v. CVS Caremark Corp., 836 F.3d 88,
90 (1st Cir. 2016) (containing the image of an allegedly deceptive
product label).
- 4 -
Dumont then appealed to this court. Though her Notice
of Appeal covers the entire judgment of dismissal, her brief makes
no argument regarding the dismissal of her claim under
Massachusetts General Laws chapter 266, section 91, or her
alternative claim for unjust enrichment. Any such argument is
therefore waived. See Sparkle Hill, Inc. v. Interstate Mat Corp.,
788 F.3d 25, 29 (1st Cir. 2015). So, we address only the dismissal
of her claim under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 93A, § 2(a).
II.
A.
We turn first to Dumont's argument that the district
court erred in its conclusion that her complaint provided
insufficiently particularized facts to satisfy Rule 9(b). We
review de novo the dismissal of a complaint for failure to comply
with Rule 9(b). U.S. ex rel. Ge v. Takeda Pharm. Co., 737 F.3d
116, 123 (1st Cir. 2013).
Rule 9(b) provides that, "[i]n alleging fraud or
mistake, a party must state with particularity the circumstances
constituting fraud or mistake." We have explained that "[t]he
circumstances to be stated with particularity under Rule 9(b)
generally consist of 'the who, what, where, and when of the
allegedly [misleading] representation.'" Kaufman v. CVS Caremark
Corp., 836 F.3d 88, 91 (1st Cir. 2016) (quoting Alt. Sys. Concepts,
Inc. v. Synopsys, Inc., 374 F.3d 23, 29 (1st Cir. 2004))
- 5 -
(alteration in original). The district court concluded that
Dumont's complaint failed this test:
Beyond the allegation that "Plaintiff
purchased [New England Coffee Company's]
Hazelnut Crème Coffee" and the conclusory
assertion that she "reasonably believed that
the coffee contained . . . hazelnut," the
complaint offers insufficient detail
regarding the circumstances of the plaintiff's
purchase. Without more, her complaint fails
to pass muster under [Rule 9(b)].
Dumont, 2018 WL 4571656, at *1 (record citation omitted). Dumont
presumes that Rule 9(b) applies to the pleading of her chapter 93A
claim, so we shall too. C.f. Mulder v. Kohl's Dep't Stores, Inc.,
865 F.3d 17, 21 (1st Cir. 2017)(observing that the Rule 9(b)
heightened pleading standard applies to claims under chapter 93A
that involve fraud). She contends that her pleading provided
sufficient particularity to satisfy Rule 9(b).
This court's decision in Kaufman v. CVS Caremark
Corporation favors Dumont. 836 F.3d at 90–91. In that case, a
consumer claimed that a CVS-brand dietary supplement labeled as
promoting "heart health" was deceptive because no scientifically
valid studies supported the "heart health" statement. Id. at 90.
Concluding that the complaint satisfied the Rule 9(b) heightened
pleading standard, this court observed that "CVS is the 'who'; the
heart health statements are the 'what'; the label is the 'where';
and the occasion on which Kaufman purchased the product is the
'when.'" Id. at 91. It follows here that Reily Foods and New
- 6 -
England Coffee Company are the "who"; the "Hazelnut Crème"
statement is the "what"; the label is the "where"; and the occasion
on which Dumont purchased the coffee is the "when." The defendants
barely acknowledge the import of our holding in Kaufman, wanly
suggesting in a footnote that it is distinguishable because the
label in that case had less information. But that distinction
suggests that the complaint in this case had more, not less,
particularity than the complaint in in Kaufman. Moreover, such a
difference would go to the merits of the claim, not the Rule 9(b)
question.
In any event, even were we to ignore Kaufman, we would
find no merit in defendants' contention that the complaint failed
to satisfy Rule 9(b) by neglecting to include further details about
Dumont's reliance on the allegedly misleading statement, including
the date and location of her purchase. As for the date of the
purchase, the complaint makes clear that the purchase occurred
when the defendants were selling the "Hazelnut Crème" coffee in
the package pictured in the complaint. The defendants offer no
reason why further particularity on the date is relevant. So,
too, the other "circumstances" the defendants say are lacking
(e.g., where in Massachusetts Dumont made the purchase and whether
"similar" products were present at the point of sale) strike us as
either irrelevant or the potential subjects of discovery.
- 7 -
The core purposes of Rule 9(b) are "to place the
defendants on notice and enable them to prepare meaningful
responses," "to preclude the use of a groundless fraud claim as
pretext for discovering a wrong," and "to safeguard defendants
from frivolous charges [that] might damage their reputation." New
England Data Servs., Inc. v. Becher, 829 F.2d 286, 289 (1st Cir.
1987). The defendants do not suggest that they required any
further particularity to respond to the complaint. This is not a
case, after all, in which the defendant can claim that it never
made the allegedly deceptive statement. Nor is this a case in
which liability turns on more precise information concerning the
"when" or the "where." Rather, it turns on an assessment of the
very particularly identified "what" in the product label. We
conclude, therefore, that the complaint satisfied the Rule 9(b)
particularity standard.
B.
Citing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the
defendants urge us to affirm on the alternative basis that the
complaint failed to state a claim for a violation of chapter 93A.
Our task is to "first disregard conclusory allegations that merely
parrot the relevant legal standard" and "then inquire whether the
remaining factual allegations state a plausible, rather than
merely possible, assertion of defendants' liability." Young v.
Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 717 F.3d 224, 231 (1st Cir. 2013). As a
- 8 -
federal court sitting in diversity, we look to state law, as
articulated by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, for
the substantive rules of decision. Shaulis v. Nordstrom, Inc.,
865 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2017).
Chapter 93A prohibits "[u]nfair methods of competition
and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any
trade or commerce." Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, § 2(a). On appeal,
Dumont argues solely that the labeling was "deceptive," not that
it was "unfair." "[A]n advertisement is deceptive when it has the
capacity to mislead consumers, acting reasonably under the
circumstances, to act differently from the way they otherwise would
have acted (i.e., to entice a reasonable consumer to purchase the
product)." Aspinall v. Philip Morris Cos., 813 N.E.2d 476, 488
(Mass. 2004). So, the question under Massachusetts law is whether
the label had the capacity to mislead consumers, acting reasonably
under the circumstances, to believe that the coffee contained some
hazelnut.
That question is one of fact. See id. at 486 (noting
that "whether conduct is deceptive is initially a question of
fact"). As with any question of fact, our role is limited to
defining the outer boundaries of its answer -- i.e., the point at
which a juror could reasonably find only one way. See Chervin v.
Travelers Ins. Co., 858 N.E.2d 746, 759 (Mass. 2006) ("Although
whether a particular set of acts, in their factual setting, is
- 9 -
unfair or deceptive is a question of fact, the boundaries of what
may qualify for consideration as a [chapter] 93A violation is a
question of law." (quoting Schwanbeck v. Federal-Mogul Corp., 578
N.E.2d 789, 803-04 (Mass. App. Ct. 1991) (internal citation
omitted)); Full Spectrum Software, Inc. v. Forte Automation Sys.,
Inc., 858 F.3d 666, 671–72 (1st Cir. 2017) (same).
The procedural posture of this case further limits our
role. At the pleading stage, "we accept as true all well-pleaded
facts set out in the complaint and indulge all reasonable
inferences in favor of the pleader." S.E.C. v. Tambone, 597 F.3d
436, 441 (1st Cir. 2010). So, we need only determine whether the
complaint's allegations make it plausible that, on a full factual
record, a factfinder could reasonably regard the label as having
the capacity to mislead.
One might presume that a reasonable consumer who, like
Dumont, cared whether the coffee she intended to purchase contained
real hazelnut would check the list of ingredients. On the other
hand, perhaps a reasonable consumer would find in the product name
sufficient assurance so as to see no need to search the fine print
on the back of the package, much like one might easily buy a
hazelnut cake without studying the ingredients list to confirm
that the cake actually contains some hazelnut. And the complaint
makes clear that convention in the industry -- presumably in large
part because of federal labeling requirements -- is to state on
- 10 -
the front of a package containing a product that is nut flavored
(but that contains no nuts) that the product is naturally or
artificially flavored. Indeed, another Reily Foods subsidiary
that sells a "hazelnut" coffee includes a "flavoring" disclosure
on the front of its package.
Our dissenting colleague envisions a more erudite reader
of labels, tipped off by the accent grave on the word "crème," and
armed perhaps with several dictionaries, a bit like a federal judge
reading a statute. We are less confident that "common parlance"
would exhibit such linguistic precision. Indeed, we confess that
one of us thought "crème" was a fancy word for cream, with Hazelnut
Crème being akin, for example, to hazelnut butter, a product often
found in another aisle of the supermarket.
Our dissenting colleague also points out that the
package says "Freshly Ground 100% Arabica Coffee." The proposition
-- by no means unreasonable -- is that a consumer could read this
statement in isolation as saying that the package contains only
coffee (and Arabica coffee at that), with no nuts (or anything
else). But a consumer might instead read this statement as saying
that 100% of the coffee in the package is of the Arabica variety.
After all, if there is nothing in the package other than coffee,
what does Hazelnut Crème mean to say? Indeed, even Reily Foods
concedes that the package also contains some flavoring, so it
- 11 -
cannot be the case that "100% Arabica Coffee" means the package
contains coffee alone.
None of this is to say that our dissenting colleague's
reading is by any means unreasonable. To the contrary, we
ourselves would likely land upon that reading were we in the
grocery aisle with some time to peruse the package. That being
said, we think it best that six jurors, rather than three judges,
decide on a full record whether the challenged label "has the
capacity to mislead" reasonably acting, hazelnut-loving consumers.
Aspinall, 813 N.E.2d at 488. And we see no unfair cost in
recognizing a state-law claim that -- as discussed in the following
subsection -- can only be lodged against manufacturers that fail
to adhere to the rules and safe harbors that have been created by
the FDA and that help form consumers' expectations in reading
labels. Therefore, and while it is certainly a close question for
the reasons well marshalled by the thoughtful dissent, we hold
that Dumont's complaint states a plausible claim for relief.
C.
The defendants propose one additional alternative ground
for affirming the dismissal of Dumont's complaint: Even if the
complaint alleges a claim under chapter 93A, they argue, that claim
is impliedly preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
[FDCA], 21 U.S.C. § 301 et. seq.
- 12 -
Neither the Supreme Court nor this circuit has addressed
the standard governing preemption of food-labeling suits brought
under state law. But the parties' common ground on this issue
eliminates our need to venture fully into this thorny area of the
law. Dumont concedes that a Massachusetts law that imposed a
labeling requirement beyond that imposed by federal law would be
expressly preempted. Hence, the complaint alleges that the
defendants' label violates federal labeling requirements, see 21
C.F.R. § 101.22(i). The defendants do not contest this assertion.
Nor do they contest that they easily could have complied with both
federal labeling law and the state requirement that would be
imposed by Dumont's proposed application of chapter 93A.
The defendants instead contend only that the application
of chapter 93A as proposed by Dumont is impliedly preempted as an
attempt to use a state law to enforce federal requirements, thereby
potentially interfering with federal enforcement of the foodlabeling
provisions of the FDCA. In support of this argument, the
defendants point to the Supreme Court's opinion in Buckman Company
v. Plaintiffs' Legal Committee, 531 U.S. 341 (2001). In that case,
patients who suffered injuries from implantation of orthopedic
bone screws sought damages under state tort law on the theory that
the defendant made fraudulent representations to the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) in the course of obtaining approval to market
the screws. Id. at 343. The Court decided that the claims
- 13 -
conflicted with -- and were therefore impliedly preempted by --
the FDA's statutory enforcement scheme. Id. at 348 & n.2. "Statelaw
fraud-on-the-FDA claims," the Court concluded, "inevitably
conflict with the FDA's responsibility to police fraud
consistently with the Administration's judgment and objectives."
Id. at 350. To avoid implied preemption, the plaintiffs' claims
would have had to "rely[] on traditional state tort law which had
predated the federal enactments in question[]." Id. at 353.
Dumont agrees with the defendants that this reasoning in
Buckman applies by analogy to her claim implicating federal foodlabeling
requirements. Dumont argues, therefore, that chapter 93A
predates the applicable federal requirements, and that she is not
seeking to impose state-tort liability because the label violates
the FDCA, but rather because it independently violates
chapter 93A. Defendants, in turn, do not argue that chapter 93A
is not a traditional tort-like law that predates the FDCA.
The defendants also concede that a state-law foodlabeling
claim can avoid preemption by "provid[ing] detailed
allegations that would support a finding that consumers would be
plausibly deceived by the packaging independently of any packaging
standards that may be established under FDCA regulations." Indeed,
they point us to Eighth and Ninth Circuit cases describing, in the
medical device context, the "narrow gap through which a plaintiff's
state-law claim must fit if it is to escape express or implied
- 14 -
preemption": "The plaintiff must be suing for conduct that
violates the FDCA (or else his claim is expressly preempted by
[the FDCA's medical device preemption provision, 21 U.S.C.
§ 360k], but the plaintiff must not be suing because the conduct
violates the FDCA (such a claim would be impliedly preempted under
Buckman)." In re Medtronic, Inc., Sprint Fidelis Leads Prod. Liab.
Litig., 623 F.3d 1200, 1204 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Riley v.
Cordis Corp., 625 F. Supp. 2d 769, 777 (D. Minn. 2009)); see also
Perez v. Nidek Co., 711 F.3d 1109, 1120 (9th Cir. 2013) (same).
Dumont does not object to the defendants' application of this
"narrow gap" test in the food-labeling context, but argues instead
that her claim fits through the "narrow gap."
Based on the parties' foregoing positions, we therefore
presume -- but do not hold -- that Dumont's complaint is preempted
unless the conduct it pleads: (1) violates FDCA labeling
requirements and (2) would also violate chapter 93A even if the
FDCA did not exist. With that test in mind, we turn back to the
complaint.
We agree with the defendants that the complaint can be
read in part as seeking to hold the defendants liable because they
violated the federal false-labeling standards codified at 21
C.F.R. § 101.22, an implementing regulation promulgated under the
FDCA. The complaint goes so far as to argue that "[s]uch
mislabeling[] and misbranding [under federal law] constitutes
- 15 -
unfair and deceptive conduct in violation of [chapter] 93A, § 2."
And Dumont offers no argument for how the complaint, so construed,
survives an implied preemption defense. For that reason, any claim
premised on the violation of federal law will remain dismissed,
albeit on the alternative grounds of preemption and waiver. See
United States v. Zannino, 895 F.2d 1, 17 (1st Cir. 1990) ("[I]ssues
adverted to in a perfunctory manner, unaccompanied by some effort
at developed argumentation, are deemed waived.").
Dumont contends, though, that the complaint also "seeks
to vindicate the separate and independent right to be free from
deceptive and unfair conduct." And the complaint can indeed be
read to allege liability not because the label constitutes
misbranding under federal law, but rather because the label "has
the capacity . . . to deceive or mislead reasonable consumers," in
violation of chapter 93A. Under that reading of the complaint,
the allegation that the label violated the FDCA serves simply to
counter a claim of express preemption.
It is also true, as we observed above, that the FDCA
requirements effectively established custom and practice in the
industry. Accordingly, it may be that a consumer's experience
with that custom and practice primes her to infer from the absence
of a flavoring disclosure that the product gets its characterizing
nutty flavor from the real nut. But we find nothing in Buckman to
suggest that such an indirect relationship between a state-law
- 16 -
claim and federal law warrants preemption, at least as long as the
factfinder avoids equating violation of the federal law with
deception under the state law. Suppose, for example, that a
pharmacist told a patient that a product was FDA approved, but it
was not. We doubt that the consumer's fraud claim under state
common law would be preempted merely because the consumer's
reliance evidence was buttressed by the background knowledge that
FDA approval connotes efficacy and safety.
We conclude, in sum, that under the parties' chosen
standard, Dumont's claim under chapter 93A is not impliedly
preempted by federal law. Of course, the FDCA exists, and it will
limit the scope of Dumont's argument. Its dual preemptive force
will restrict the factfinder to determining whether conduct that
does violate the federal regulations is also deceptive under
Massachusetts law by virtue of its nature rather than its federal
illegality. Nevertheless, thus constrained, the claim as
plausibly construed survives the defendants' implied preemption
argument.3
III.
For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the district
court's dismissal of the complaint.
3 Any other elements Dumont must satisfy to recover under
Chapter 93A are not at issue in this appeal or decided by this
opinion.
- 17 -
-- Dissenting Opinion Follows --
- 18 -
LYNCH, Circuit Judge, dissenting. I disagree with my
colleagues as to whether Kathy Dumont's complaint states a claim
for a violation of chapter 93A, and I think the Massachusetts
courts will as well. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In my view,
the complaint fails to state a claim and so must be dismissed.
The majority opinion ably lays out the procedural
history and facts of this case, which I do not repeat except as
necessary.
I.
A district court's dismissal of a complaint under Rule
12(b)(6) is reviewed de novo. S.E.C. v. Tambone, 597 F.3d 436,
441 (1st Cir. 2010) (en banc). A complaint survives dismissal
under Rule 12(b)(6) if it has "enough facts to state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face," accepting as true the
plaintiff's factual allegations and drawing reasonable inferences
in the plaintiff's favor. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 570 (2007). "If the factual allegations in the complaint are
too meager, vague, or conclusory to remove the possibility of
relief from the realm of mere conjecture, the complaint is open to
dismissal." Tambone, 597 F.3d at 442. This court may affirm a
Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal "on any basis apparent in the record."
Debnam v. FedEx Home Delivery, 766 F.3d 93, 96 (1st Cir. 2014)
(quoting Young v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 717 F.3d 224, 237 n.11
(1st Cir. 2013)).
- 19 -
Dumont's claim is that she purchased the coffee at issue
because she thought it contained hazelnut, and that she was
deceived by the label. In Massachusetts, chapter 93A bars
"[u]nfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or
practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce." Mass. Gen.
Laws ch. 93A, § 2(a). Dumont acknowledges that, to plead her claim
under chapter 93A, she must show "(1) a deceptive act or practice
on the part of the seller; (2) an injury or loss suffered by the
consumer; and (3) a causal connection between the seller's
deceptive act or practice and the consumer's injury." Casavant v.
Norwegian Cruise Line, Ltd., 919 N.E.2d 165, 169 (Mass. App. Ct.
2009), aff'd, 952 N.E.2d 908 (Mass. 2011). In my view, Dumont has
not pleaded that there was a deceptive act or practice. The case
should end here.
In this diversity jurisdiction case, we apply
Massachusetts law. E.g. Shaulis v. Nordstrom, Inc., 865 F.3d 1,
6 (1st Cir. 2017). Under Massachusetts law, "an advertisement is
deceptive when it has the capacity to mislead consumers, acting
reasonably under the circumstances, to act differently from the
way they otherwise would have acted (i.e., to entice a reasonable
consumer to purchase the product)." Aspinall v. Philip Morris
Cos., 813 N.E.2d 476, 488 (Mass. 2004) (emphasis added); see Edlow
v. RBW, LLC, 688 F.3d 26, 39 (1st Cir. 2012) (applying this
standard from Aspinall). So, this standard "depends on the likely
- 20 -
reaction of a reasonable consumer rather than an ignoramus."
Aspinall, 813 N.E.2d at 487.
II.
Dumont cannot satisfy Massachusetts's reasonable
consumer standard because her complaint has not demonstrated that
the label would mislead a reasonable consumer under the totality
of the circumstances here. I disagree with the majority that this
is a "close" question. In my view, a reasonable consumer plainly
could not view the phrase "Hazelnut Crème" as announcing the
presence of actual hazelnut in a bag of coffee which also proclaims
it is "100% Arabica Coffee." Indeed, a reasonable consumer, acting
rationally, could not conclude that the label was deceptive. See
Chervin v. Travelers Ins. Co., 858 N.E.2d 746, 759 (Mass. 2006)
("[T]he boundaries of what may qualify for consideration as a
[chapter] 93A violation is a question of law." (internal citation
omitted) (quoting Schwanbeck v. Federal-Mogul Corp., 578 N.E.2d
789, 803-04 (Mass. App. Ct. 1991))).
As a preliminary matter, the front label plainly states
that the package contains "100% Arabica Coffee." It does not say
it contains anything other than coffee. The package here did not
contain any misstatement of its contents, did not feature any
pictures or illustrations of hazelnuts, and did not have any error
in the ingredient list. There are two points. First, this is not
a case of erroneous information being provided, but of accurate
- 21 -
information, and that is relevant. See Ortiz v. Examworks, Inc.,
26 N.E.3d 165, 174 (Mass. 2015). And second, "100% Arabica Coffee"
makes it clear only coffee is in the package.
The phrase "Hazelnut Crème," also on the front of the
package, does not state a nut or an organic item is in the coffee;
the phrase is at most a reference to a flavor. "Crème" (including
the grave accent) is not the same as "cream." Most consumers would
know there was a difference, and if they did not, they could refer
to the ingredient list, and they would not conclude a bag of dry,
ground coffee contained cream.
A few dictionary definitions are helpful as to what is
a reasonable consumer's understanding. "Cream" refers, first and
foremost, to "[t]he oily or butyraceous part of milk, which gathers
on the top when the milk is left undisturbed; by churning it is
converted into butter." Cream, Oxford English Dictionary,
available at https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/44024; see also
Webster's Third New International Dictionary 534 (1993) (defining
"cream" first as "the yellowish part of milk containing from 18 to
about 40 percent butterfat that rises to the surface on standing
or is separated by centrifugal force"). "Crème" has distinct
meanings, both in the dictionary and in common parlance: it is
generally defined as a "cream or cream sauce as used in cookery"
or "a sweet liqueur," with the latter "usu[ually] used with the
flavor specified." Webster's Third New International Dictionary
- 22 -
534 (1993); see also Crème, Oxford English Dictionary, available
at https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/44191 (defining "crème" as
(a) "[a] cream or custard" or (b) "[a] name for various syrupy
liqueurs").
There is also the fact that the term "Hazelnut" was used
as a modifier for "Crème" on the front of the package. So, a
reasonable consumer would not think that hazelnuts were present,
and that is true even if a consumer improbably thought cream was
present in "100% Arabica Coffee."
In the context of a package of ground, dry coffee, as in
this case, the two words, "Hazelnut Crème," together plainly state
the flavoring of the coffee. They do not state that the coffee
contains hazelnuts, and the words are not deceptive. Reasonable
consumers, whether erudite or not, would not think this phrasing
means that the coffee actually contained hazelnuts. The majority
draws a mistaken analogy to a "hazelnut cake." But a cake, unlike
"100% Arabica Coffee," is made up of many ingredients. Most
consumers would not approach the label for a cake, or for any sort
of nut butter, the same way they would approach the label of a
package of ground coffee beans that said "100% Arabica Coffee."
Possible confusion by some consumers does not render a
notice unfair or deceptive. See Ortiz, 26 N.E.3d at 174. Even if
Dumont was confused as to the matter of hazelnuts being in the
contents, the only reasonable thing would be for her to turn the
- 23 -
package to look at the ingredient list. That is, a reasonable
consumer particularly interested in the presence of actual
hazelnut (or, for that matter, actual dairy-based cream or crème
or some form of liqueur)4 in their ground coffee would have looked
at the list of ingredients on the back of the package. This is
particularly true for a compound flavor term such as "Hazelnut
Crème."
The majority opinion seems to equate the "Hazelnut
Crème"-flavored coffee here to a straightforward "Hazelnut"-
flavored coffee cited in the complaint (the front label of which
contained illustrations of hazelnuts) but this equivalence is
wrong. Put simply, even if the former term was arguably ambiguous,
4 Beyond general points drawn from federal labeling
regulations about the "characterizing flavor" in a food product,
21 C.F.R. § 101.22(i), the complaint does not explain why Dumont
apparently did not expect the coffee to contain "Crème" of any
sort but did expect the coffee to contain the modifying term,
"Hazelnut." Under the federal regulation, both of these flavors
could perhaps be seen as "characterizing flavor[s]." Id. ("If the
label, labeling, or advertising of a food makes any direct or
indirect representations with respect to the primary recognizable
flavor(s), . . . such flavor shall be considered the characterizing
flavor."); see id. § 101.22(i)(3)(iii) (discussing multiple
characterizing flavors in a product). Or, more likely, "Hazelnut
Crème" is simply "a blend of flavors with no primary recognizable
flavor" under the relevant regulation. Id.
Also, Dumont's claim is not about whether the flavoring
in the coffee is natural or artificial, but whether the coffee
contains actual hazelnuts. (Her complaint says that she purchased
the package based on her "reasonable belief that the Coffee
contained Hazelnut," not that it was all-natural.) So, her
interest in the label is presumably restricted to what it reveals
about the presence of hazelnuts.
- 24 -
the latter was not. "[C]onsumers who interpret ambiguous
statements in . . . [a] debatable manner do so unreasonably if an
ingredient label would set them straight." In re: 100% Grated
Parmesan Cheese Mktg. & Sales Practices Litig., 275 F. Supp. 3d
910, 922 (N.D. Ill. 2017) (internal citations omitted). The
correct and complete ingredient label here would have set Dumont
straight, even if she had some initial confusion.5
Alleged industry labeling conventions also cannot save
Dumont's chapter 93A complaint. The issue under chapter 93A is
not whether another packaging choice could have been more precise
about the ingredients or flavor of the coffee; surely there are
many such choices, perhaps including a package stating on the front
that "the product is naturally or artificially flavored." The
issue before us, instead is whether a reasonable consumer would
have been misled by the label as it was. The majority's implicit
argument is that a consumer could have been lulled into a sense of
security by general industry conventions stemming from the federal
food labeling requirements. The premise is wrong. Further, I do
not see any such reliance as being reasonable in this context for
5 I recognize that "[o]ne can violate [chapter 93] . . .
by failing to disclose to a buyer a fact that might have influenced
the buyer to refrain from the purchase," Greenery Rehab. Grp.,
Inc. v. Antaramian, 628 N.E.2d 1291, 1294 (Mass. App. Ct. 1994),
but here all of the ingredients were clearly and accurately
disclosed. There was no failure of disclosure.
- 25 -
a compound ground coffee flavor such as "Hazelnut Crème." Dumont's
complaint fails to state a claim under chapter 93A.6
* * *
6 I need not consider the Rule 9(b) pleading standard or
preemption, because I view Rule 12(b)(6) as dispositive here.
As to Dumont's argument that her complaint should not
have been dismissed without leave to amend, this should fail.
Review is for abuse of discretion. Hamilton v. Partners Healthcare
Sys., Inc., 879 F.3d 407, 414 (1st Cir. 2018). Under Rule 15(a),
leave of court to amend a complaint generally should be "freely
give[n] . . . when justice so requires," Fed R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2),
but "[t]his does not mean . . . that a trial court must mindlessly
grant every request for leave to amend," Aponte-Torres v. Univ. of
P.R., 445 F.3d 50, 58 (1st Cir. 2006). A request usually must be
made by motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 7(b)(1). There was no motion
made here. Instead, a footnote in Dumont's Objection and
Memorandum in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss stated in relevant
part: "To the extent the Court finds any part of Defendan[ts']
motion persuasive, Plaintiff respectfully asks for leave to
amend."
The district court cannot have abused its discretion,
because Dumont did not properly seek leave to amend and no
exceptional circumstances exist to excuse this failure. Her
cursory, contingent request for leave to amend, not made in a
motion but in another filing, is not a proper motion for leave to
amend. See Gray v. Evercore Restructuring L.L.C., 544 F.3d 320,
327 (1st Cir. 2008) (holding that the statement, "in the event
that the Court finds that the Amended Complaint fails to state a
claim, Plaintiff requests leave to replead" in an opposition motion
"does not constitute a motion to amend a complaint"). This has
been a consistent First Circuit rule. Fire & Police Pension Ass'n
of Colo. v. Abiomed, Inc., 778 F.3d 228, 247 (1st Cir. 2015); Wayne
Inv., Inc. v. Gulf Oil Corp., 739 F.2d 11, 15 (1st Cir. 1984).
And "allowing plaintiffs to hedge their bets by adding a cursory
contingent request in an opposition to a motion to dismiss would
encourage plaintiffs to test the mettle of successive complaints
and freely amend under Rule 15(a) if their original strategic
choices prove inadvisable." Fisher v. Kadant, Inc., 589 F.3d 505,
510 (1st Cir. 2009).
Dumont was "put on notice of the deficiencies in the
complaint by the motion to dismiss. If [she] had something
relevant to add, [she] should have moved to add it then." Abiomed,
778 F.3d at 247.
- 26 -
The dissent does exactly what judges are supposed to do:
define the parameters of the law. The Supreme Judicial Court of
Massachusetts affirms dismissal of chapter 93A claims that do not
state a claim. See, e.g., Ortiz, 26 N.E.3d at 174. The federal
courts should do no less. We have done so before. See Edlow, 688
F.3d at 39. Imposing on food producers the costs of defending
meritless labeling litigation will have the effect of driving up
prices for consumers. It is the dissent that is concerned with
harm to the consumer.
For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully dissent.

Outcome: Reverse.

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:

Comments:



 
 
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