By: John O'Brien
Jelly Belly Candy Co. is again asking a federal judge to toss the lawsuit of a mother of six who now says she was tricked into buying its exercise jelly beans while trying to find a healthy snack for her family.
On July 17, the company filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Jessica Gomez, who has taken issue with the term “evaporated cane juice” being used in the ingredients section in Sport Beans. ECJ, she says, is sugar and should be listed as so.
The company called the claims “nonsense” in a previous motion before Gomez amended her lawsuit on June 22. The new complaint details Gomez’s actual purchase of the product, which is marketed as an exercise supplement containing electrolytes and vitamins.
Its new motion wants dismissal of Gomez’s claims made under the Unfair Competition Law, the False Advertising Law and the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act.
“The reason is simple: Plaintiff cannot state a claim for equitable relief where she has pled the existence of adequate remedies available at law,” the motion says.
The previous motion, which was rendered moot because Gomez amended her complaint after, was a touch more candid. In response to Gomez’s allegation that Jelly Belly used “evaporated cane juice” on the ingredients list instead of “sugar” because ECJ would make Sport Beans more attractive to athletes, the company said Gomez could have simply looked up the sugar content on the nutrition label.
“This is nonsense,” the company said in its April motion.
“No reasonable consumer could have been deceived by Sport Beans’ labeling – Gomez could not have seen ‘evaporated cane juice’ without also seeing the product’s sugar content on its Nutrition Facts panel.
“And she has pled no facts to suggest that athletes, who consumer this product to sustain intense exercise, would want to avoid sugar rather than affirmatively seek it.”
Gomez’s amended complaint argues that the product’s label had been designed to mislead consumers, and that she and others would not have been willing to pay as much for them - if they had purchased the Sport Beans at all - if not for the company’s alleged misrepresentations.
It says that she bought Sport Beans in 2016 at a San Bernardino County CVS store. A mother of six, Gomez says she already knew Jelly Belly’s other products contain a lot of sugar because it is listed as the primary ingredient on them.
“Plaintiff was seeking a healthier alternative as a snack for herself and her family,” the complaint says.
Not seeing sugar on the ingredients list for Sport Beans and not being familiar with evaporated cane juice, Gomez said she was led to believe that the product was healthier than it is.
Jelly Belly thus “succeeded in making the product appear less like a candy, containing little or no processed sugar,” the complaint says.
In May 2016, the federal Food and Drug Administration determined evaporated cane juice is sugar. Following that decision, class action lawsuits filed over use of the term proceeded.
“Sweeteners derived from sugar cane should not be declared on food labels as evaporated cane juice,” the FDA wrote.
This guidance, though, lacks teeth. The FDA also wrote that it represented the current thinking of the FDA but “does not establish any rights for any person and is not binding of FDA or the public.”
Gomez is represented by Thomas Kohler and Ryan Ferrell of Apex Trial Law in Newport Beach, CA.
Attorneys for Jelly Belly only focused on claims under the three laws in their motion to dismiss but wrote that not addressing other claims “does not concede the viability” of them.