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Panitch v. Quaker Oats Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 5, 2017

OREN PANITCH, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE QUAKER OATS COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

          Paul S. Diamond, J.

         This is the last of seven putative class actions filed across the country in which the plaintiffs make the same key allegation: that the “100% Natural” labels on certain Quaker Oats products are false and misleading. (Compl., Doc. No. 1.) Five of the earlier-filed cases are proceeding in a consolidated action in the Northern District of Illinois. See Gibson v. Quaker Oats Co., No. 16-4853 (N.D. Ill.). A sixth case was voluntarily dismissed. Quaker asks me to transfer this case to the Northern District of Illinois under either the first-filed rule or 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or, in the alternative, to stay the case pending Gibson's resolution. (Doc. No. 5.) Because transfer is appropriate under both the first-filed rule and § 1404(a), I will grant Quaker's Motion and transfer this case to the Northern District of Illinois.

         I. Procedural History

         A. The Six Earlier-Filed Complaints and the Consolidated Action

         Between April 29, 2016 and May 4, 2016, plaintiffs filed five putative class actions, alleging that the “100% Natural” labels on certain Quaker Oats products are false and misleading because the oats contain detectable quantities of the herbicide glyphosate. See Compl., Daly v. Quaker Oats Co., No. 16-2155, Doc. No. 1 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 29, 2016); Compl., Cooper v. Quaker Oats Co., No. 16-2364, Doc. No. 1 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 29, 2016); Compl., Gibson v. Quaker Oats Co., No. 16-4853, Doc. No. 1 (N.D. Ill. May 2, 2016); Compl., Jaffee v. Quaker Oats Co., No. 16-21576, Doc. No. 1 (S.D. Fla. May 3, 2016); Compl., Kinn v. Quaker Oats Co., No. 16-2-10756-7 (Wash. Super. Ct. King Cty. May 4, 2016). On June 1, 2016, a sixth, materially identical action was filed in the Northern District of Illinois. See Compl., Wheeler v. Quaker Oats Co., No. 16-5776, Doc. No. 1 (N.D. Ill. June 1, 2016).

         In July 2016, the plaintiffs in Jaffee, Daly, and Cooper agreed to transfer their cases to the Northern District of Illinois for consolidation. See Jaffee, No. 16-21576, Doc. No. 12 (S.D. Fla. July 8, 2016) (order granting stipulation to transfer case); Daly, No. 16-2155, Doc. No. 12 (E.D.N.Y. July 13, 2016) (same); Cooper, No. 16-2364, Doc. No. 16 (N.D. Cal. July 13, 2016) (same). The cases were consolidated with Gibson, and on August 11, 2016, the plaintiffs filed their consolidated amended complaint. See Consolidated Am. Compl., Gibson, No. 16-4853, Doc. No. 28 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 11, 2016).

         On the same day, Quaker removed Kinn to the Western District of Washington. See Notice of Removal, Kinn, No. 16-1262, Doc. No. 1 (W.D. Wash. Aug. 11, 2016). On August 23, 2016, Quaker moved to transfer Kinn to the Northern District of Illinois. See Def.'s Mot. to Transfer, Kinn, No. 16-1262, Doc. No. 10 (W.D. Wash. Aug. 23, 2016).

         On September 26, 2016, the plaintiff in Wheeler-which was not consolidated with Gibson-voluntarily dismissed her case. See Notice of Voluntary Dismissal, Wheeler, No. 16-5776, Doc. No. 19 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 26, 2016).

         On November 3, 2016, the Washington District Court granted Quaker's motion to transfer. See Kinn, No. 16-1262, Doc. No. 22 (W.D. Wash. Nov. 3, 2016) (order granting motion to transfer). All the earlier-filed cases are now pending before Judge Charles Norgle of the Northern District of Illinois in one consolidated proceeding.

         B. The Instant Complaint

         On August 22, 2016-months after the other cases were initiated, and nearly two weeks after the Gibson plaintiffs filed their consolidated amended complaint-Named Plaintiffs Oren Panitch, Gina Davis, and Margie Rizika filed the instant Complaint, which was assigned to Judge Dalzell. (Compl., Doc. No. 1.) Acting on behalf of a putative nationwide class and putative Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas subclasses, Plaintiffs allege that Quaker has deceptively marketed certain oatmeal products as “100% Natural, ” when the products actually contain glyphosate. (Id. ¶¶ 1-25.) Plaintiffs bring claims on behalf of the putative nationwide class for breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation, and injunctive relief. (Id. ¶¶ 120-143, 200-214 (Counts I-III, VII-VIII).) On behalf of the putative state subclasses, Plaintiffs allege violations of the states' consumer protection statutes. (Id. ¶¶ 144-199 (Counts IV-VI).) They seek damages, restitution, disgorgement, injunctive relief, counsel fees, and costs. (Id. at 41 (Prayer for Relief).)

         On October 11, 2016, Quaker moved to transfer this case to the Northern District of Illinois under both the “first-filed rule” and 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or, in the alternative, to stay the case pending the resolution of Gibson. (Doc. No. 5.) On October 25, 2016, Plaintiffs responded. (Doc. No. 9.) The Parties have exhaustively briefed the matter. (Doc. Nos. 5, 9, 14, 19, 20.)

         On January 4, 2017, the case was reassigned to me. (Doc. No. 17.)

         II. Legal Standards

         A. The First-Filed Rule

         As long explained by the Third Circuit:

The first-filed rule encourages sound judicial administration and promotes comity among federal courts of equal rank. It gives courts ‘the power' to enjoin the subsequent prosecution of proceedings involving the same parties and the same issues already before another district court.

E.E.O.C. v. Univ. of Pa., 850 F.2d 969, 971 (3d Cir. 1988); accord Crosley Corp. v. Hazeltine Corp., 122 F.2d 925, 929 (3d Cir. 1941) (“In all cases of concurrent jurisdiction, the court which first has possession of the subject must decide it.” (quoting Smith v. McIver, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 532, 535 (1824))); see also 15 Charles Alan Wright et al., Fed. Prac. & Proc. § 3854 & n.12 (4th ed. Jan. 2017) (“[W]hen two courts have concurrent jurisdiction over a dispute involving the same parties and issues, as a general proposition, the forum in which the first-filed action is lodged has priority.”) (collecting cases). The rule “permits courts to consolidate similar cases by transferring later-filed cases for consolidation with the first-filed case.” Palagano v. NVIDIA Corp., No. 15-1248, 2015 WL 5025469, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 19, ...


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