A federal court in New Jersey has denied the motion to dismiss filed by MonaVie, Inc. in consumer-fraud litigation involving its juice products, finding that the first amended putative class-action complaint was sufficiently pleaded. Pontrelli v. MonaVie, Inc., No. 13-4649 (D.N.J., decided August 19, 2014).

Attached to the complaint was a MonaVie brochure that included a number of claims about the curative health benefits of the açai berry, as well as purported customer testimonials. The plaintiff claimed that she relied on such representations, did not receive the advertised benefits and would not have purchased the products if she had known that the representations were false. The complaint also alleged that consumers are willing to pay an inflated price for the products—$40 for a 25-ounce bottle—based on the advertised health benefits. The plaintiff also alleged that the company knows its claims are false and that the juice products will not cure any diseases.

The complaint includes allegations about the company’s marketing distribution structure that relies on distributors to sell the products and to convince other individuals to become MonaVie distributors. While company policies apparently forbid distributors from making claims about the products’ purported health benefits, the plaintiff alleges that the company’s executives “are well-aware that their Distributors make false claims about the health benefits of MonaVie.”

The court found that the plaintiff pleaded facts creating the plausible inference of an agency relationship between MonaVie and the distributors and thus that it could be held vicariously liable for the distributors’ alleged misrepresentations. The court also found that the plaintiff had sufficiently met the heightened pleading standard for her statutory and common-law fraud claims. Among other matters, the court outlined the pleading deficiencies identified by the defendants but noted that “at no point do the Defendants claim that they did not receive adequate notice from the Plaintiff.” Accordingly, the court concluded that the plaintiff satisfied the Rule 9(b) pleading standard. Also found sufficiently pleaded was the plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim.


Issue 535

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For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.