Law360 (June 5, 2019, 7:36 PM EDT) — A California federal judge Wednesday certified a class action suit against nutritional supplement maker Reckitt Benckiser LLC for allegedly falsely claiming one of its supplements treats joint pain.
U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria certified both a California and New York class of buyers of Reckitt’s “Move Free Advanced” dietary supplement, saying the plaintiffs had shown they can support both their false advertising and damages claims.
“The plaintiffs have submitted evidence that Reckitt Benckiser labeled their ‘Move Free’ glucosamine and chondroitin-based supplements with claims suggesting that the supplements would improve joint functioning, but that scientific studies show the ingredients in the supplements do not actually improve joint functioning,” Judge Chhabria said.
California plaintiff Gordon Yamagata and New York plaintiff Stamatis Pelardis claimed they and others had been induced to buy MFA by packaging and advertising claiming the supplement treats joint pain and stiffness.
However, they claimed in their class certification motion that more than a dozen independent studies since the late 1990s have found no improvement in pain, mobility or quality of life for patients treated with glucosamine or chondroitin, separately or in combination, and that the same had been found for patients treated with MFA’s secondary ingredients.
“The totality of the evidence is overwhelming,” they said. “MFA does not work as advertised.”
In its response, Reckitt had argued there were too many individual factors to certify a class or set class damages, including how individuals interpreted the advertising, how dissatisfied individuals were with the product, and how effective the product was on individual customers’ particular medical conditions.
“Even the studies on which plaintiffs rely show positive results for certain categories of individuals, depending on factors such as age, pain level, length of usage, and the joints affected,” it said.
Judge Chhabria, however, said the plaintiffs had submitted enough objective evidence to show proving their class claims was possible and dismissed Reckitt’s arguments that the plaintiffs were not credible class representatives, calling the inconsistencies Reckitt cited in their discovery responses “minor.”
He did say the plaintiffs could not seek extra damages authorized under California law for deceptive business practices targeting senior citizens, saying the statute requires evidence of “substantial” economic, physical or emotional harm.
“The challenged supplements are relatively inexpensive and the plaintiffs have not pointed to any evidence suggesting that this factor can be established on a classwide basis,” the judge said.
Counsel for the plaintiffs and Reckitt did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Wednesday.
The plaintiffs are represented by Timothy G. Blood and Thomas J. O’Reardon II of Blood Hurst & O’Reardon LLP and Todd D. Carpenter and Edwin J. Kilpela Jr. of Carlson Lynch Sweet Kilpela & Carpenter LLP.
Reckitt is represented by Robert H. Platt and Adrianne E. Marshack of Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP.
The case is Yamagata et al. v. Reckitt Benckiser LLC, case number 3:17-cv-03529, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
–Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.