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Arnold v. Aramark Corp.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 13, 2018

ARAMARK CORPORATION; SANDI DOE, Aramark Representative; JOHN DOE #1; JOHN DOE #2; JOHN DOE #3, Defendants.


          Thomas Coffin, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, an inmate at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution, paid the full filing fee and brought an action under state law seeking monetary damages arising from defendants' alleged false advertising. Defendants now move for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on grounds that plaintiff fails to state a claim. For the reasons explained below, defendants' motion should be granted and this case should be dismissed.


         Plaintiffs claims arise from the purchase of "iCare" packages on Aramark Corporation's website during plaintiffs incarceration at the Umatilla County Jail. According to plaintiffs allegations, family members of inmates may order and purchase iCare packages to provide inmates with "a gift or extra commissary in the jails." Compl. ¶¶ 5, 6 (ECF No. 1). Customers who order an iCare package are charged a shipping and handling fee and informed that the iCare package will be delivered the following Tuesday. Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff alleges that defendant "Sandi," who allegedly works for Aramark, prints a receipt of the items and fills the order from the commissary room located at the Umatilla County Jail. Id. ¶ 11.

         Plaintiff alleges that the iCare packages he received either omitted several purchased items, substituted different items, or included expired items. Id. ¶¶ 14, 18-19, 21.[1] In particular, plaintiff alleges that his iCare "sweet tooth package" had an expired Butterfinger candy bar and other missing candy items. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff allegedly sent a grievance about the expired and missing items to jail personnel and talked to Sandi. Compl. ¶ 22. Sandi apologized to plaintiff and replaced the "sweet tooth" iCare package. Id. ¶¶ 22-24. Plaintiff also alleges that no packages are actually shipped to the inmate so as to require a shipping or handling fee, and that Sandi delivers the packages at her convenience rather than by the following Tuesday. Id. ¶ 12.

         Based on these allegations, plaintiff asserts claims of 1) false advertising, 2) embezzlement, 3) theft of property, and 4) selling outdated food. Essentially, plaintiff alleges that defendants engaged in false advertising by failing to provide the items described on their website and failing to deliver iCare packages by the following Tuesday. Further, plaintiff contends that defendants committed embezzlement and theft of property by charging for "shipping and handling" when the items were not actually shipped to him at the Umatilla County Jail. Plaintiff seeks $1, 500, 000 in damages.


         Defendants move for dismissal on grounds that plaintiff fails to state a claim.[2] Under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint is construed in favor of the plaintiff, and its factual allegations are taken as true. Daniels-Hall v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n, 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010). The court need not accept as true "conclusory" allegations, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences. Id. Instead, "for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory 'factual content,' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief." Moss v. United States Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). In pro se cases particularly, the court must construe the complaint liberally and afford the plaintiff "the benefit of any doubt." Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). "Unless it is absolutely clear that no amendment can cure" defects in the complaint, "a pro se litigant is entitled to notice of the complaint's deficiencies and an opportunity to amend prior to dismissal of the action." Lucas v. Dep't of Corr., 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam).

         Plaintiff alleges that defendants' website falsely advertised that the iCare packages would contain specific items and be delivered on a certain day. Under Oregon law, plaintiff arguably could bring a claim for false advertising under the Unlawful Trade Practices Act (UTPA) or as common law claim of fraudulent misrepresentation. The UTP A "is a statutory scheme that provides for a civil right of action for loss of money or property as a result of the willful use or employment of an unlawful trade practice," and it generally prohibits the false representation or false advertising of goods and services. Weston v. Camp's Lumber & Bldg. Supply, Inc., 205 Or.App. 347, 358-59, 135 P.3d 331 (2006); see Or. Rev. Stat. § 646.6O8(e), (i). Similarly, to state a claim for fraudulent misrepresentation, plaintiff must allege that: 1) defendants "made a material misrepresentation that was false"; 2) defendants "did so knowing that the representation was false"; 3) defendants "intended the plaintiff to rely on the misrepresentation"; 4) plaintiff "justifiably relied on the misrepresentation"; and 5) plaintiff "was damaged as a result of that reliance." Strawn v. Farmers Ins. Co., 350 Or. 336, 352, 258 P.3d 1199 (2011).

         Critically, plaintiffs allegations do not remotely suggest that defendants advertised the iCare packages with the knowledge and intent that packages would not contain certain items and would be delivered in an untimely manner. In fact, plaintiff admits that after he complained about the expired Butterfmger and missing candy items, Sandi apologized and replaced them. Compl. ¶¶ 22-24. At most, plaintiff alleges poor customer service on the part of Sandi or other unidentified Aramark employees by either failing to provide the correct items or failing to keep sufficient items in stock at the Umatilla County Jail. While regrettable, poor customer service does not support a cause of action for fraud under these circumstances. As defendants point out, "the mere failure to keep a promise is not actionable fraud." Defs.' Motion at 15; see also Pelletier v. Pelletier, 29 Or.App. 717, 721, 565 P.2d 388 (1977) ("Fraud cannot, however, be predicated solely upon the failure to perform a promise to do something in the future.").[3]

         Similarly, plaintiffs allegations regarding the shipping and handling charges do not state a claim for false advertising or fraudulent misrepresentation. Plaintiff alleges that purchasers of iCare packages are charged for "shipping and handling" even though the items are stocked out of the jail's commissary and not shipped to the jail. However, the billing provided by plaintiff indicates that the purchaser was charged for "handling," not shipping. Pl's Ex. 8 (ECF No. 18-1). Regardless, handling costs incurred in preparing the packages are fairly represented as costs of "shipping and handling." Plaintiff further alleges that defendants' conduct constitutes embezzlement and theft. However, embezzlement and theft are criminal offenses rather than civil causes of action, and plaintiff has no private right to enforce criminal statutes.[4] Further, even if the court construed plaintiffs claims as alleging the tort of conversion - the equivalent of civil theft - his allegations fail to state a claim. Spillino v. Taylor, 280 Or.App. 700, 702384 P.3d 169 (2016) (stating that conversion is "an intentional exercise of dominion or control over a chattel which so seriously interferes with the right of another to control it that the actor may justly be required to pay the other the full value of the chattel").

         Finally, I find that no amendment will cure the noted deficiencies. Plaintiff does not allege a viable federal cause of action and must rely on diversity jurisdiction, which requires an amount in controversy of $75, 000 or more. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) (federal courts have jurisdiction over state law claims when the plaintiff and the defendant are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000). Even if plaintiff amended his claims to allege a cognizable state law tort or contract claim, any claim of damages rising to the jurisdictional level of $75, 000 - based on a few missing items of candy, chips, or soda- is so "fanciful" as to be frivolous. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992); see also Russell v. Access Securepak, Inc., 2007 WL 4170756, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 20, 2007) (finding no diversity jurisdiction where the plaintiffs "have not alleged conduct by defendants which would support a punitive damages award that is approximately 1, 500 times the amount of actual damages" of $164.90).


         Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 15) should be GRANTED and this action should be DISMISSED. This recommendation is not an order that is immediately appealable to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Any notice of appeal pursuant to Rule 4(a)(1), Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, should ...

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