Bratton v. The Hershey Company
ORDER. Defendant The Hershey Company's motion to dismiss, Doc. 47 , is denied. Signed on 5/16/2017 by Judge Nanette Laughrey. (Barragan-Scott, Alana)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
ROBERT BRATTON, Individually
and on behalf of all others similarly
situated in Missouri,
THE HERSHEY COMPANY,
Case no.: 2:16-cv-4322-C-NKL
Defendant The Hershey Company moves to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint
under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Doc. 47. The motion is denied.
Hershey manufactures Reese’s® Pieces® and Whoppers® candies. The products are
regularly sold at grocery stores, convenience stores, and other food retail outlets throughout
Missouri and the rest of the United States. Bratton bought opaque, non-pliable, cardboard boxes
of Reese’s Pieces and Whoppers for about $1.00 apiece at a Gerbes grocery store in Missouri, for
For purposes of deciding the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the
Court accepts the factual allegations contained in the Second Amended Complaint as true. Eckert
v. Titan Tire Corp. 514 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2008). The Court may also consider documents
attached to, or materials that are necessarily embraced by, the pleadings. Porous Media Corp. v.
Pall Corp., 186 F.3d 1077, 1079 (8th Cir. 1999) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The
Second Amended Complaint includes allegations about markings on the candy boxes at issue and
includes pictures of the front of the boxes. Hershey provided pictures of the front as well as the
back of the boxes in an affidavit attached to its motion to dismiss. The Court will consider
Hershey’s affidavit inasmuch as the information is necessarily embraced by the pleadings.
Hershey subsequently deposited with the Court “samples of the products at issue in this
matter: the 4-ounce Reese’s Pieces cardboard box and the 5-ounce Whoppers cardboard box.”
The sealed boxes bear the same markings as those depicted in the complaint and Hershey’s
his personal use. His lawsuit focuses on Hershey’s packaging of the candies.
Consumers spend an average of 13 seconds making an in-store purchasing decision. The
decision is heavily dependent on a product’s packaging, in particular, the package dimensions.
When faced with a large box and a smaller box, both containing the same amount of product, a
consumer is more likely to choose the larger one, thinking it is a better value.
The dimensions of a Reese’s Pieces box are 2 9∕16″ x 11∕16″ x 6 1∕16″. The front of the box
includes the description, “PEANUT BUTTER CANDY IN A CRUNCHY SHELL.” Doc. 33,
p. 8. The front of the box also states: “NET WEIGHT 4 OZ (113 g)”; “51 PIECES PER
SERVING”; “200 CALORIES”; “8 g SAT FAT”; “45 mg SODIUM”; and “21 g SUGARS.”
Doc. 33, p. 8. On the back of the box, the “Nutrition Facts” panel states that there are “about 3”
servings in the container. Doc. 48-1, p. 3. About 29% of each box has “slack filled,” or empty,
The dimensions of a Whoppers box are 4″ x 1 ⅛″x 6 ⅝″. The front of the box includes
the description, “THE ORIGINAL MALTED MILK BALLS[,] Naturally and Artificially
Flavored,” and includes a picture of a few dozen malted milk balls in the lower left corner.
Doc. 33, p. 6. The front of the box also states, “NET WEIGHT 5 OZ (141 g).” Doc. 33, p. 7. On
the back of the box, the “Nutrition Facts” panel states that there are “18 pieces (41 g) per serving”
and “about 3.5” servings in the container.
Doc. 48-1, p. 4. About 41% of each box has slack
Bratton alleges that he “attached importance” to the “size” of the Reese’s Pieces and
Whoppers boxes, and was misled to believe that he was “purchasing more Product than was
actually received.” Doc. 33, p. 14, ¶ 56. He alleges that boxes are “uniformly under-filled” or
“ʽslack-filled,’” id., p. 2, ¶ 3; the slack-filled space serves no purpose; and had he known the boxes
were “substantially slack-filled,” he would not have purchased the products or would have
purchased them on different terms, id., p. 14, ¶ 56. He alleges that he “suffered an ascertainable
loss as a result of [Hershey’s] unlawful conduct because the actual value of the Products as
purchased was less than the value of the Products as represented.” Id., p. 33, ¶ 57. Bratton alleges
that he “would…likely purchase the Products in the future if the Products complied with
applicable laws.” Id., p. 33, ¶ 58.
Bratton filed this lawsuit in state court as a putative class action. In Count I, he claims a
violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA) for a Missouri Consumer
Subclass, and he requests injunctive relief and damages under the statute. Count II is a claim
for unjust enrichment brought on behalf of All Classes (class members in all states who
purchased the products), in which Bratton requests restitution or disgorgement of Hershey’s
economic enrichment. Hershey removed the action to Federal court.
Hershey argues that Count I must be dismissed because Bratton fails to state a claim
under the MMPA and has no standing to seek injunctive relief. Hershey argues that Count II
must be dismissed because it is vague; Bratton lacks standing to assert non-Missouri-based
claims; and the count is premised on the same conduct as the unsuccessful MMPA claim.
To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “enough facts to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, (2009)
(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint is plausible if its
“factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for
the misconduct alleged.” Braden v. Wal–Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). A court must “‘draw on its judicial experience and common
sense,’” and consider the plausibility of the plaintiff's claim as a whole, not the plausibility of
each individual allegation. Zoltek Corp. v. Structural Polymer Group, 592 F.3d 893, 896 n. 4
(8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
Count I—The MMPA claim
The elements of a claim under the MMPA are: (1) the purchase of goods or services,
(2) primarily for personal or household purposes; and (3) an ascertainable loss of money or
property, (4) as a result of, or caused by, the use or employment by another person of a method,
act, or practice declared unlawful under the MMPA. §§ 407.020 and 407.025.1. See also
Murphy v. Stonewall Kitchen, LLC, 503 S.W.3d 308, 311 (Mo. App. 2016); and MO. APPROVED
INSTRUCTIONS (CIVIL) 39.01 (7th ed.).
Hershey argues that the MMPA count must be dismissed because Bratton’s allegations
concerning unlawful practice and ascertainable loss are not plausible. For the reasons discussed
below, the Court concludes that the allegations are sufficient to state a claim. 2
Allegation of an unlawful practice
The Missouri Supreme Court has characterized the MMPA as “ʽpaternalistic legislation
designed to protect those that could not otherwise protect themselves.’” High Life Sales Co. v.
Brown-Forman, Corp., 823 S.W.2d 493, 498 (Mo. 1992) (quoting Electrical and Magneto
Hershey correctly notes that Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b)’s heightened pleading standard
applies when a plaintiff alleges fraud under the MMPA. Pursuant to Rule 9(b), “[i]n alleging
fraud or mistake, a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or
mistake.” See also Abels v. Farmers Commodities Corp., 259 F.3d 910, 920 (8th Cir. 2001)
(applying Rule 9(b) pleading standard to fraud claim brought under the MMPA). But “[t]he
special nature of fraud does not necessitate anything other than notice of the claim; it simply
necessitates a high degree of notice, enabling the defendant to respond specifically, at an early
stage of the case, to allegations of” fraudulent conduct. Id. Bratton has satisfied Rule 9(b). The
allegations in the Second Amended Complaint are sufficiently specific and Hershey has therefore
been provided notice of the allegedly fraudulent conduct that forms the basis for Bratton’s claims.
Service Co. v. AMBAC Intern'l Corp., 941 F.2d 660, 663 (8th Cir. 1991)). See also Huch v.
Charter Communications, Inc., 290 S.W.3d 721, 725 (Mo. 2009) (en banc) (noting that the
legislature enacted the MMPA to “regulate the marketplace to the advantage of those who may
fall victim to unfair business practices”). As such, the law is very broadly written. Section
407.020(1) declares and describes unlawful practices as follows:
The act, use or employment by any person of any deception, fraud,
false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, unfair practice or
the concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact in
connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise in
trade or commerce … in or from the State of Missouri, is declared
to be an unlawful practice.
See also 34 MO. PRACTICE PERSONAL INJURY
TORTS HANDBOOK § 29:2, “Elements of the
action” (2016 ed.) (“The prohibitions of V.A.M.S. § 407.020 are construed broadly to reach any
deception or unfair practice[.]”) (and citations therein).
The focus of the statutory scheme is on the defendant’s conduct. “A consumer’s reliance
on an unlawful practice is not required under the MMPA.” Murphy, 503 S.W.3d at 311 (citing
Hess v. Chase Manhattan Bank, USA, N.A., 220 S.W.3d 758, 774 (Mo. 2007) (en banc)).
Ultimately, the MMPA requires courts to make case-by-case determinations of whether a
defendant’s conduct violates principles of fair dealing. Huch v. Charter Commc'ns, Inc., 290
S.W.3d 721, 724 (Mo. 2009) (en banc).
“[I]n order to prevent evasion by overly meticulous definitions,” the statutory scheme
does not provide definitions of any particular unlawful practices. Clement v. St. Charles Nissan,
Inc., 103 S.W.3d 898, 900 (Mo. App. 2003) (citing State ex rel. Webster v. Areaco Inv. Co., 756
S.W.2d 633, 635 (Mo. App. 1988)). The Missouri Supreme Court explained in Ports Petroleum
Co. of Ohio v. Nixon that absent statutory definitions, it would “consider the plain and ordinary
meaning of the words themselves,…which,” in the case of “unfair practice” were “unrestricted,
all-encompassing and exceedingly broad.” 37 S.W.3d 237, 240 (Mo. 2001). Accordingly, “[f]or
better or worse, the literal words cover every practice imaginable and every unfairness to
whatever degree.” Id.
The MMPA does grant the Missouri Attorney General authority to promulgate rules, and
the rules that have been promulgated under the MMPA are instructive here.
Pharmacal Co. of Mo. v. Mo. Bd. of Pharmacy, 159 S.W.3d 361, 365 (Mo. 2005) (en banc)
(properly promulgated rules have the force and effect of law). For example, under 15 C.S.R.
§ 60-9.020(1), “deception” is defined as “any method, act, use, practice, advertisement or
solicitation that has the tendency or capacity to mislead, deceive or cheat, or that tends to create a
false impression.” Under 15 C.S.R. § 60-9.030(1), “Deceptive Format,” “[i]t is deception for any
person in an advertisement or sales presentation to use any format which because of its overall
appearance has the tendency or capacity to mislead consumers.” Another rule, 15 C.S.R. § 609.070(1), defines “misrepresentation” as “an assertion not in accord with the facts[.]” The rules
further provide that reliance and intent are not elements that must be proven to establish
deception or misrepresentation for purposes of § 407.020(1). § 60-9.020(2) and § 60-9.070(2).
The regulation concerning “unfair practice[s]” provides that proof of deception, fraud, or
misrepresentation is not required. 15 C.S.R. § 60-8.020(2).
At the motion to dismiss stage, the Court’s focus is on what is alleged in a plaintiff’s
complaint. Bratton alleges that Hershey’s packaging, containing slack-filled space, misled him to
believe that the boxes contained more candy than they actually did, and that Hershey’s conduct
constituted the act, use or employment of deception, fraud, false pretenses, false promises,
misrepresentation, unfair practices and the concealment, suppression, or omission of any material
facts in connection with the sale of advertisement of their products, in violation of the MMPA.
Doc. 33, p. 18. He also alleges that the actual value of the product he purchased was less than the
value of the product as represented by the packaging. Id. at 19. More specifically, Bratton
alleges that consumers spend an average of 13 seconds making an in-store purchasing decision.
The decision is heavily dependent on a product’s packaging, in particular, the package
dimensions. When given a choice, consumers are more likely to choose larger boxes, thinking
they are a better value. Hershey makes its candy boxes from opaque, non-pliable cardboard.
Hershey fills the boxes such that 29% of a box of Reese’s Pieces is empty and 41% of a box of
Whoppers candies is empty. The empty, or slack-filled, space in the boxes serves no purpose,
such as protection of the contents. The slack-filled space is not attributable to settling of the
contents. Nothing prevents Hershey from placing more candy in the boxes, or reducing the size
of the boxes. Id. at pp. 10-13.
As discussed above, consumer protection is paramount under the MMPA and its
prohibitions are construed broadly. The Missouri Supreme Court has explained that an “unfair
practice” under the MMPA covers every unfair practice imaginable and every unfairness, to
whatever degree. Practices made unlawful by the act are also broadly defined by regulation, such
as deception, which is any practice having the tendency or capacity to mislead, deceive, cheat, or
create a false impression; or misrepresentation, which is an assertion not in accord with the facts.
A plaintiff need not even allege or prove reliance on an unlawful practice to state a claim under
the act. Hershey’s candy boxes are opaque and non-pliable, and a reasonable consumer could
conclude that the size of a box suggests the amount of candy in it. Larger packages are attractive
to consumers, and consumers tend to make their purchasing decision in 13 seconds. Yet there is
29% non-functional, slack-filled space in a Reese’s Pieces box and 41% in a Whoppers box.
Bratton has plausibly alleged, at minimum, that the packaging unfairly suggests the boxes contain
more product than they actually do, or tends to or has the capacity to mislead consumers or to
create a false impression, which is sufficient for purposes of alleging an unlawful practice under
the MMPA. The Court cannot conclude as a matter of law and at this stage of the litigation that
the packaging is not misleading. See, e.g., Murphy v. Stonewall Kitchen, LLC, 503 S.W.3d 308,
312-13 (Mo. App. 2016) (declining to decide how a “reasonable consumer” would perceive the
term “all natural” at an early stage of litigation, and holding that the question is appropriately
addressed on a motion for summary judgment or trial); and Thornton v. Pinnacle Foods Grp.
LLC, 2016 WL 4073713, at *3 n.3 (E.D. Mo. Aug. 1, 2016) (“Whether a reasonable consumer
would be deceived by a product label is generally a question of fact that cannot be resolved on a
motion to dismiss.”). 3
The Court’s conclusion that Bratton has plausibly alleged an unlawful practice is
reinforced by Bratton’s allegations concerning a Federal regulation that prohibits slack-fill in
packaging, subject to six exceptions which Bratton alleges do not apply here. Doc. 33, pp. 5-6. 4
See also In re McCormick & Co., Inc., Pepper Prod. Mktg. & Sales Practices
Litig., 2016 WL 6078250, at *6 (D.D.C. 2016) (“The size of a package signals to the consumer
vital information about a product and is as influential in affecting a customer's choices as an
explicit message on its surface. Moreover, in this case, the size of McCormick's [pepper]
containers is exactly what makes them misleading, because consumers cannot see the amount of
their contents.”) (internal quotation omitted); and Hobby Indus. Assn. of Am., Inc. v. Younger, 101
Cal. App. 3d 358, 367–68 (Ct. App. 1980) (“Clear disclosures on labels, scale drawings, and
other informative matter may not counteract the impression created by the size of the package,
and in this sense slack fill can be viewed as inherently deceptive.”)
Specifically, in the Second Amended Complaint, Bratton cites 21 C.F.R.
§ 100.100, a Federal regulation which provides: “A container that does not allow a consumer to
fully view its contents shall be considered to be filled so as to be misleading [in violation of 21
U.S.C. § 403(d) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act] if it contains nonfunctional slackfill. Slack-fill is the difference between the actual capacity of a container and the volume of
product contained therein.” 21 C.F.R. §100.100(a).
The regulation then provides six exceptions to the prohibition against slack-fill:
(1) protection of the package’s contents; (2) the requirements of the machinery used to enclose
the contents in the package; (3) unavoidable product settling during shipping and handling;
(4) the need for the package to perform a specific function, such as playing a role in preparation
Hershey argues that to make out a claim under the MMPA, Bratton must allege more than mere
violation of Federal slack-fill rules. Doc. 55, p. 8 of 19 (and citations therein). Regardless of
whether Bratton may prove his MMPA claim by pointing to such violation, an issue that has not
been fully briefed by both parties at this time, the existence of the Federal prohibition against
slack-fill supports the reasonableness of a consumer’s belief that the package of candy he
purchases will not have 29% or 41% non-functional slack-fill. 5
Hershey argues that “[c]onsumers are well aware of the fact that substantially all
commercial packaging contains some empty space”; that “[i]t is common knowledge in ‘our
industrial civilization’ that substantially all packaged goods include some amount of empty or
‘head’ space, which is necessary for efficient manufacturing and distribution”; and that “a
reasonable consumer, upon picking up the Reese’s Pieces or Whoppers container, would instantly
realize that it is not filled to the brim: with each movement of the package, its contents noticeably
and audibly rattle.” Doc. 48, pp. 8, 15-16 of 22. No such allegations are in Bratton’s complaint,
which is the pleading that controls for purposes of Hershey’s motion to dismiss.
Furthermore, to the extent that Hershey’s statements are couched as facts, they are not
facts of which the Court may take judicial notice. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 201(b), the
Court may take judicial notice of a “fact that is not subject to reasonable dispute because it ... can
be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be
of a food, where clearly communicated to consumers; (5) the package is a reusable container
which has a part in the preparation of the food, and has a significant and independent value; or
(6) the inability to increase the level of fill or reduce the packaging, such as to accommodate
required food labeling or to accommodate tamper-resistant devices.
As noted above, Bratton alleges that the six exceptions do not apply to Hershey’s
Hershey also briefly states that the Federal regulations permit functional slack fill,
Doc. 48, p. 10 of 22, without further argument. At the motion to dismiss stage, and in view of
Bratton’s allegations that Hershey’s packaging does not meet an exception, the issue of whether
there is permissible, functional slack-fill under the Federal regulations is not before the Court.
questioned.” Such facts “can include[,]” for example, “well-established scientific theories and
principles.” Williams v. Employers Mut. Cas. Co., 845 F.3d 891, 904 (8th Cir. 2017) (citation
omitted) (holding that in deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the district court did
not abuse its discretion by taking judicial notice of fact that the element radium is a solid that
emits alpha particles; such a fact was not subject to reasonable dispute). Hershey points to no
authority demonstrating that its statements are not subject to reasonable dispute because they can
be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be
questioned, nor is the Court aware of such authority. 6
Moreover, Hershey’s statement that a reasonable consumer would instantly realize upon
picking up a box that it is not “filled to the brim” because the contents rattle does not go to what
Bratton has alleged.
Bratton has alleged that the boxes are “substantially empty,” have
“substantial, non-functional slack-fill,” and have an “amount of slack-fill [that] cannot be
justified”; that industry-standard machines are capable of filling and enclosing the boxes “with far
less slack-fill”; and that “the level of fill…can certainly be increased.” Doc. 33, pp. 2, 8, 11, and
13. He does not allege that the boxes should be “filled to the brim,” let alone that the packaging
is misleading because the contents do not rattle. Nonetheless, even in the context of what Bratton
has alleged, whether a reasonable consumer would notice rattling in the 13-second course of
making the purchasing decision and what a consumer would make of it, let alone instantly
Hershey does cite McKinniss v. Gen. Mills, Inc., 2007 WL 4762172 (C.D. Cal.
Sept. 18, 2007), for the proposition that the Court may take judicial notice that “a reasonable
consumer, upon picking up the Reese’s Pieces or Whoppers container, would instantly realize
that it is not filled to the brim: with each movement of the package, its contents noticeably and
audibly rattle[.]” Doc. 48, p. 16 of 22. The court in McKinniss did not take judicial notice of
movement of the contents of a package. The court simply took “judicial notice of the actual
packaging filed by Defendant…which portray[ed] the images and words on Defendant’s
packaging better than the color printouts attached to the” complaint. Id. at 3.
conclude the boxers are as much as much as 29% or 41% slack-filled, are questions of fact. 7
In addition, Hershey’s statement that “some” empty space in the boxes is related to
“efficient manufacturing and distribution” is at odds with Bratton’s allegation that the slack-filled
space in the boxes takes up as much as 29% and 41% of the boxes’ space, that the slack-filled
space serves no purpose and is not related to the settling of the contents, and that nothing about
the manufacturing process prevents Hershey from filling the boxes fuller. To the extent that
Hershey disputes these allegations, such dispute cannot be resolved on a motion to dismiss.
Hershey further argues that the clear and accurate labeling on the packages—net weight,
number of pieces of candy per serving, and number of servings per box—is fatal to Bratton’s
claim because it tells a consumer how much candy is in the box. The Missouri Court of Appeals
recently rejected an analogous argument in Murphy. That case involved a consumer’s claim
under the MMPA against the manufacturer of a muffin mix that was labelled “all natural.”
503 S.W.3d at 312-313. The package’s ingredient label, placed there pursuant to federal law,
disclosed that the product contained sodium acid pyrophosphate. The manufacturer argued that
the label’s ingredient disclosure entitled it to dismissal. But the court “expressly reject[ed] the
notion that the ‘ingredient list’ defense asserted by [the defendant] defeat[ed] [the plaintiff’s]
claim as a matter of law.” Id. at 312. The court explained that an ingredient list is not required to
be placed on packaging “so that manufacturers can mislead consumers and then rely on the
ingredient list to correct those misrepresentations and provide a shield from liability for that
deception.” Id. at 313 (citation omitted). The court further held that a reasonable consumer
would expect that the ingredient list comported with the representations on the packaging, and
As noted in footnote 1, Hershey has deposited what it described as “samples of the
products at issue in this matter” with the Court. At the motion to dismiss stage, the Court cannot
make findings of fact about what conclusions a reasonable consumer would draw about the
amount of product in the course of deciding to purchase the boxes.
that in any event, the manufacturer was in the superior position to know and understand the
ingredients in the product, and whether they comported with the packaging. Id. The court held
that the allegations were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.
The “all natural” package labelling in Murphy is analogous to the information suggested
to consumers by the dimensions of Hershey’s opaque, non-pliable cardboard boxes. As discussed
above, the dimensions of the boxes can suggest to reasonable consumers how much candy is in
them, and consumers tend to choose larger packages, thinking they are a better value. Consumers
also tend to make their purchasing decision in about 13 seconds. Following the Murphy rationale,
a reasonable consumer would expect the candy boxes’ labeling information to comport with the
dimensions of the box and it is Hershey that is in the superior position to know whether the
dimensions do. In other words, similar to the Murphy scenario, the question of whether a
consumer would figure out, from the labeling information and in the 13 seconds spent making a
purchasing decision, that the boxes contain 29% and 41% slack-filled space rather than the
amount suggested by the dimensions of the box goes to reasonableness, which is a question of
Moreover, Hershey’s narrow focus and emphasis on the net weight, number of pieces of
candy per serving, and servings per box, as printed on the boxes, overlooks that the Court must
consider the plausibility of the complaint as a whole, not the plausibility of each individual
allegation. Zoltek, 592 F.3d at 896 n.4. In fact, elsewhere in its briefing Hershey acknowledges
that “when considering slack-fill claims, context is crucial.” Doc. 55, p. 11 of 19. Hershey also
overlooks that the MMPA is both written and construed broadly to serve its purpose of consumer
protection. High Life Sales, 823 S.W.3d at 498 and 34 MO. PRACTICE PERSONAL INJURY
TORTS HANDBOOK § 29:2. Narrowly focusing on an aspect of the labeling does not serve the
purpose of the MMPA. 8
Hershey also cites a case decided in this district, Kelly v. Cape Cod Potato Chip Co.,
81 F.Supp.3d 754 (W.D. Mo. 2015), in which the court dismissed an MMPA challenge to a
“natural” claim on the front label of a bag of potato chips. The federally-mandated ingredient list
on the back of the package disclosed several preservatives and artificial ingredients. The Kelly
court held that considering the package as a whole, the “natural” statement on the front of the bag
could not have deceived a reasonable purchaser. Id. at 762. However, Kelly was decided before
Murphy, in which the Missouri Court of Appeals expressly rejected the ingredient-label defense
at the motion to dismiss stage. In view of the Murphy decision, Kelly is wrong to the extent that
it holds, as a matter of law, that consumers are responsible for evaluating whether some
information on a package label is inconsistent with other information on the label. Therefore,
Kelly does not change this Court’s analysis. See also Thornton, 2016 WL 4073713 (decided after
Kelly and Murphy, and holding that a “nothing artificial” label on a muffin mix package might be
misleading under the MMPA, notwithstanding the disclosure of two artificial substances on the
ingredient label; whether a reasonable consumer might be deceived involved a factual inquiry and
the manufacturer’s motion to dismiss must therefore be denied).
Both parties cite a number of decisions, rendered by courts nationwide and involving
other states’ laws, in support of their respective arguments about the slack-fill.
See also Fed. Trade Comm'n v. Standard Educ. Soc., 302 U.S. 112, 116 (1937)
(Holding, in an action to enforce an order of the Federal Trade Commission to cease and desist
from certain unfair methods of competition: “The fact that a false statement may be obviously
false to those who are trained and experienced does not change its character, nor take away its
power to deceive others less experienced. There is no duty resting upon a citizen to suspect the
honesty of those with whom he transacts business. Laws are made to protect the trusting as well
as the suspicious….”)
discussion of the various cases cited by the parties would not be useful to the analysis, largely
because it is Missouri law that controls in this case. The Missouri Supreme Court has also
explained that courts must make case-by-case determinations of whether a defendant’s conduct
violates Missouri’s consumer protection law. Huch, 290 S.W.3d at 724.
In any event, the slack-fill cases from other jurisdictions to which Hershey points were
dismissed based on the labels’ net weight and quantity disclosures. See Doc. 48, pp. 14-15 of 22
(citing Ebner v. Fresh, Inc., 2013 WL 9760035, *7-9 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 11, 2013); Fermin v.
Pfizer, Inc., 2016 WL 6208291, *2 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 18, 2016); and Bush v. Mondelez
International, Inc., 2016 324990, *2 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 16, 2016)), and Doc. 55, pp. 11-13 (same
citations). However, the Murphy case discussed above is a recent, analogous case decided under
the MMPA by the Missouri Court of Appeals, which rejected the “ingredient label defense” and
held that the question of a how a “reasonable consumer” would perceive certain packaging
information was a question appropriately addressed on a motion for summary judgment or trial,
not a motion to dismiss. The issues in this case are controlled by Missouri law, which is at odds
with the slack-fill cases Hershey cites.
Moreover, courts that have allowed slack-fill, consumer protection cases to proceed
beyond the motion to dismiss stage tend to do so because reasonableness was at issue and could
not be resolved short of summary judgment or trial.
See, e.g., Izquierdo v. Mondelez
International, Inc., 2016 WL 6459832, *6-7 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 26, 2016) (denying motion to dismiss
a claim concerning slack-filled candy boxes; a reasonable consumer could be misled even if the
candy box displayed the net weight and listed the number of pieces inside); Thomas v. Costco
Wholesale Corp., 2014 WL 1323192, at *9 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 31, 2014) (holding that where the
plaintiff claimed that products she purchased were unjustifiably slack-filled and that she was
misled, the plaintiff had adequately pled that a reasonable consumer could be deceived, and the
claim could not be resolved at the motion to dismiss stage); and Samet v. Procter & Gamble Co.,
2013 WL 3124647, at *9 (N.D. Cal. June 18, 2013) (denying motion to dismiss where the
plaintiffs alleged facts showing that they were deceived by the slack-filled potato chip and fruit
snack packaging, and thought they were receiving more of the product than they actually did;
even if a consumer would expect extra air in a bag of such snacks, “the amount of slack-fill
expected by the reasonable consumer is a debatable factual question that is inappropriate to
resolve at the motion to dismiss stage”). 9
The Court concludes that the analysis consistent with Missouri law leads to the conclusion
that Bratton has plausibly alleged a claim under the MMPA and that reasonableness is an issue of
fact, which cannot be resolved on a motion to dismiss.
Allegation of an ascertainable loss
Hershey further argues that the Bratton failed to allege ascertainable loss under the
MMPA. This element is straightforward. Ascertainable loss involves “the benefit-of-the-bargain
rule, which compares the actual value of the item to the value of the item if it had been as
represented at the time of the transaction.” Murphy, 503 S.W.3d at 313 (citing Schoenlein v.
See also Williams v. Gerber Prod. Co., 552 F.3d 934, 939 (9th Cir. 2008) (whether
the labeling on the defendant’s Fruit Juice Snacks product “could likely deceive a reasonable
consumer” was not a question that could be resolved on a motion to dismiss; the lower court’s
dismissal was reversed); Burton v. Hodgson Mill, Inc., 2017 WL 1282882, at *6 (S.D. Ill. Apr. 6,
2017) (“This Court finds that the crux of this issue is a reasonable person's interpretation of the
various labels and representations on a given product—thus, this question is best left for the
jury.”); Atik v. Welch Foods, Inc., 2016 WL 5678474, at *10 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2016) (denying
a motion to dismiss where “a reasonable consumer could expect a fruit snack to contain a
significant amount of fruit, especially where, as here, the packaging and labeling emphasize the
presence of fruit in the Products”); and Blue Buffalo Co. Ltd. v. Nestle Purina Petcare Co., 2015
WL 3645262, at *7-9 (E.D. Mo. June 10, 2015) (holding that “the effect that an ingredient
statement may have on a reasonable consumer's understanding of advertising and product labels
involves a factual inquiry”).
Routt Homes, Inc., 260 S.W.3d 852, 854 (Mo. App. 2008)).
Furthermore, the loss must be a
result of the alleged unlawful practice. Id. (citing Plubell v. Merck & Co., 289 S.W.3d 707, 714
(Mo. App. 2009)).
Murphy was a challenge under the MMPA to the labelling of a muffin mix as “all
natural,” notwithstanding that the mix had synthetic ingredients. The plaintiff alleged that the
mix was worth less than the product as represented. The Missouri Court of Appeals held that the
plaintiff stated an ascertainable loss under the benefit of the bargain rule. The court further
concluded that the plaintiff had adequately alleged the loss was the result of the allegedly
deceptive labeling when he pled that consumers were interested in purchasing healthy food
products without potentially harmful synthetic ingredients, and that the defendant had taken
advantage of that desire by using the “all natural” label to entice consumers to pay a premium for
the product. See also Plubell, 289 S.W.3d at 715 (the plaintiff alleged that a drug manufacturer
violated the MMPA by failing to disclose and concealing the drug’s serious safety risks; the court
held that the plaintiff’s allegation that the drug was worth less than as represented stated an
ascertainable loss under the benefit-of-the-bargain rule).
Bratton’s allegations of ascertainable loss are analogous to those held sufficient in
Murphy. Bratton alleged that the boxes were opaque and that the size of the boxes led him to
believe there was more candy in them than they actually contained. He alleged that the value of
the products he purchased was less than the value of the products as represented by size of the
boxes. He alleged that product purchasing decisions are heavily dependent on the packaging, and
the package dimensions in particular, and that consumers tend to choose a larger package over a
smaller one, thinking it is a better value. Bratton has sufficiently alleged ascertainable loss for
purposes of withstanding the motion to dismiss and that the alleged loss was the result of the
Hershey’s authorities, district court cases decided under the MMPA, do not change the
analysis. See Doc. 48, pp. 17-18 of 22; Doc. 55, pp. 13-14 of 19. Both Thompson v. Allergan
USA, Inc., 993 F.Supp.2d 1007 (E.D. Mo. 2014), and Carter v. Alcon Labs., Inc., 2014 WL
989002 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 13, 2014), involved allegations that the defendant drug manufacturers
overfilled single-dose medication bottles, so that consumers purchased more medication than they
needed. In neither case did the plaintiffs allege that the defendants misrepresented the amount of
product that the bottles contained. The courts in both cases held that the consumers received what
they bargained for, and therefore failed to allege ascertainable loss under the MMPA. The court
in Polk v. KV Pharm. Co., 2011 WL 6257466, at *5 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 15, 2011), concluded that the
plaintiff had failed to allege ascertainable loss because, among other reasons, the plaintiff merely
alleged the legal conclusion that the product, a prescription medication, was “adulterated” and
never alleged that he did not receive the benefit for which he bargained, i.e., a medication that
performed as intended. In contrast here, and as discussed above, Bratton sufficiently alleges that
the packaging was misleading and that he did not obtain what he bargained for.
Bratton has plausibly alleged an ascertainable loss under the MMPA.
Standing to pursue injunctive relief under Count I
The MMPA expressly provides for injunctive relief, as well as damages and attorney fees,
§ 407.025.2, “not only to remedy violations…, but also to prospectively deter prohibited conduct
and protect Missouri citizens,” Berry v. Volkswagen Grp. of Am., Inc., 397 S.W.3d 425, 433 (Mo.
2013) (en banc). Hershey argues that whatever comes of Bratton’s claim for damages under the
MMPA, his claim for injunctive relief must be dismissed for lack of Article III standing.
According to Hershey, now that Bratton is aware of the slack-filled space in the boxes, he
cannot plausibly claim that he will be subject to continuing injury, so injunctive relief would
not affect him.
Article III of the United States Constitution grants federal courts limited jurisdiction to
decide “cases and controversies.” To satisfy this jurisdictional standing requirement, a plaintiff
must establish (1) an injury in fact, which is (2) fairly traceable to the defendant's conduct, and
which (3) will likely be redressed by a favorable decision. See Friends of the Earth, Inc. v.
Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180-181 (2000). To establish “injury in fact”
for purposes of injunctive relief, a plaintiff must show that he “faces a threat of ongoing or future
harm.” Park v. U.S. Forest Serv., 205 F.3d 1034, 1037 (8th Cir. 2000). Under the redressability
prong, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he “personally would benefit in a tangible way from the
court's intervention.” Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 104 n. 5 (1998).
Bratton has pled a threat of ongoing or future harm, which is fairly traceable to Hershey’s
conduct. Specifically, he alleges that the he was misled by the packaging to believe the boxes
contained more product than they actually did, and suffered an ascertainable loss, and that had
he known the boxes contained substantial slack-filled space he would not have purchased them
or would have purchased them on different terms. He alleges that Hershey continues to sell
slack-filled candy boxes, i.e., the unlawful practice is ongoing.
Bratton has also pled that he would personally benefit in a tangible way from injunctive
relief, by alleging that if Hershey changes its practices, he is likely to buy the products in the
future, and that he seeks to be relieved from Hershey’s unlawful practice by the issuance of
Hershey places emphasis on Bratton’s discovery of the slack-fill in the Reese’s Pieces and
Whoppers boxes. But the fact that Bratton discovered Hershey’s allegedly unlawful practice does
not make the packaging less misleading, nor mean that the practice is not ongoing. Bratton need
plead nothing more to survive a motion to dismiss a request for injunctive relief for lack of
Article III standing. See Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 158-59 (1990) (discussing United
States v. SCRAP, 412 U.S. 669 (1973)) (acknowledging that even attenuated injuries or “thin”
allegations are sufficient to confer Article III standing at the motion to dismiss stage); and Leiner
v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc., 2016 WL 128098, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 12,
2016) (cautioning that standing to pursue injunctive relief and entitlement to such relief are two
separate concepts). See also Chester v. TJX Companies, Inc., 2016 WL 4414768, at *8 (C.D. Cal.
Aug. 18, 2016) (“It is inconceivable to think prospective relief in the false advertising context is
bound by the rules of ‘fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.’
Court...refuses to find that, once a plaintiff has alleged that she was deceived, she likely will not
voluntarily be deceived again—and thus no court can enjoin deceptive practices without ignoring
Article III's standing requirements.”); and Ackerman v. Coca-Cola Co., 2013 WL 7044866, at
*15 n.23 (E.D.N.Y. July 18, 2013) (where the defendants’ allegedly deceptive advertising and
labeling practices were ongoing, and the plaintiffs sought to be relieved from such practices in the
future, the fact that the plaintiffs discovered the alleged deception years earlier did not mean the
plaintiffs lacked Article III standing) (and collecting cases).
Hershey’s motion to dismiss the request for injunctive relief is denied.
Count II—Unjust enrichment
Bratton’s unjust enrichment count is brought on behalf of a putative nationwide class.
Doc. 33, p. 2, ¶ 5 (“Plaintiff seeks to represent a Nationwide Class and a Missouri Consumer
Subclass[.]”) Bratton alleges that by purchasing the products, he and the putative class members
conferred a benefit on Hershey in the form of the purchase price of the slack-filled products;
Hershey knew of the benefit; Hershey appreciated the benefit because the sales generated
revenue; Hershey’s acceptance and retention of the benefit is inequitable and unjust because it
was obtained by Hershey’s fraudulent and misleading representations and omissions; and equity
cannot in good conscience permit Hershey to be economically enriched for such actions.
Doc. 33, p. 20, ¶¶ 79-83. Bratton further alleged, with respect to himself, that he purchased the
products for about $1.00 apiece in a Missouri grocery store.
Hershey argues that the count should be dismissed because it is too vaguely pled and does
not identify which states’ laws apply; that Bratton lacks standing in any event to assert an unjust
enrichment claim under any state’s law except Missouri’s; and that the count is premised on the
same facts as the MMPA count which fails to state a claim and so should be dismissed on the
same basis. Bratton responds that Hershey should move for a more definite statement under Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(e); that his ability to represent non-Missourians should be decided at the class
certification stage; and that Hershey does not challenge his standing under Missouri law in any
The Court will address Missouri-specific issues first. There are three elements to a claim
of unjust enrichment under Missouri law. First, a plaintiff must confer a benefit and enrich a
defendant. Second, the enrichment must be at the expense of the plaintiff. Finally, the Court
must determine that it would be unjust for the defendant to retain the benefit. Miller v. Horn, 254
S.W.3d 920, 924 (Mo. App. 2008). Enrichment is unjust when “a person retains the benefit and
enjoys the benefit conferred upon him without paying its reasonable value.” Webcon Group, Inc.
v. S.M. Properties, L.P., 1 S.W.3d 538, 542 (Mo. App. 1999). Bratton’s pleading and the
reasonable inferences drawn therefrom address each of the elements with sufficient specificity to
state a claim for unjust enrichment under Missouri law. Bratton alleges that a benefit was
conferred on Hershey in the form of payment of the purchase price for the slack-filled products
by him and the putative class members, and that it would be unjust to permit Hershey to retain the
benefit in view of the packaging, which misled purchasers about the amount of product inside.
Accordingly, the unjust enrichment claim is sufficiently pled under Missouri law. 10 Bratton has
also alleged sufficient facts to demonstrate Article III standing to pursue the claim, in that he has
alleged an injury in fact, which is fairly traceable to Hershey’s conduct, and which will likely be
redressed by a favorable decision. Friends of the Earth, 528 U.S. at 180-181.
Hershey also argues that Bratton has no standing to assert claims under other states’ laws
and that the issue is ripe for determination now. Bratton argues that he has standing to bring an
unjust enrichment claim under Missouri law for his own injury, and that whether he may
represent others with a similar injury is a question that the Court has discretion to, and should,
decide later, at the class certification stage.
The parties point to no Eighth Circuit authority addressing this issue, nor has the Court
located any. However, the Court finds persuasive the majority of the authorities that follow the
class certification approach, limiting the standing inquiry to the named plaintiff’s individual
standing, and deferring consideration of whether the plaintiff may represent others until a later
stage. See, e.g., In re: McCormick & Co., Inc., 2016 WL 6678340, at *12–13 (D.D.C. Nov. 11,
2016) (and cases cited therein). As the McCormick court explained, it is more logical to consider
As discussed in a preceding section, the Court has concluded that Bratton states a
claim under the MMPA. It is generally permissible to pursue alternative theories at the pleading
stage, and courts generally permit unjust enrichment claims to proceed alongside a properly-pled
MMPA claim. See, e.g., Murphy, 503 S.W.3d at 314 (because the trial court’s dismissal of an
MMPA claim was reversed, the dismissal of the unjust enrichment claim, which was based on the
same conduct, was also reversed); Thornton, 2016 WL 40373713, at *4 (denying motion to
dismiss unjust enrichment claim, after concluding that the plaintiff had plausibly stated a claim
under the MMPA).
a named plaintiff’s ability to raise other state-law claims as a question of commonality, typicality,
and adequacy under Rule 23, than as a question of standing. Standing analysis cannot address
whether a named plaintiff should be able to bring claims on behalf of a class of others. However,
Rule 23(a)’s requirements were designed precisely to address whether a named plaintiff can do
so. In addition, the class certification approach has the benefit of resolving any disjuncture
between a named plaintiff’s injuries and the class’s without engaging in unnecessary
constitutional adjudication. See 1 NEWBERG
CLASS ACTIONS § 2.6 (and citations therein at
Here, the standing doctrine’s focus on ensuring that a case or controversy exists has been
satisfied with respect to Bratton’s individual claim for unjust enrichment. However, at this stage
of the litigation, there is neither evidence nor briefing before the Court concerning Bratton’s
ability to represent others under the requirements of Rule 23(a). Therefore, whether Bratton may
pursue claims for unjust enrichment on behalf of others is a question that is appropriately
For the foregoing reasons, Hershey’s motion to dismiss Count II is denied.
Defendant The Hershey Company’s motion to dismiss, Doc. 47, is denied.
s/ Nanette K. Laughrey
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY
United States District Judge
Dated: May 16, 2017
Jefferson City, Missouri
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