On November 8, 2018, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in a consumer class action deceptive advertising case in favor of Defendants Boiron Inc. and Boiron USA, Inc. (together, “Boiron”), the sellers of a homeopathic treatment for flu-like symptoms called Oscillococcinum (“Oscillo”). Although the Ninth Circuit’s memorandum decision is marked “Not for Publication” and therefore is non-precedential under Ninth Circuit rules, the decision is still worth noting, as jury verdicts in class action false advertising cases are rare.
According to the appellate briefs, Oscillo’s active ingredient is a compound (extracted from the heart and liver of the Muscovy duck for those foodies in our readership) that is subjected to a homeopathic dilution process. The diluted compound is then sprayed onto specially-manufactured granules. Plaintiff argued that, due to the homeopathic dilution process, Oscillo was essentially “water sprayed on sugar,” which could not provide the relief from flu-like symptoms that Boiron advertised. Plaintiff claimed that Boiron had therefore violated two California deceptive advertising statutes, the Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) and Consumers Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”).
At the conclusion of a one-week trial in the Central District of California, the jury found in Boiron’s favor that its representations that Oscillo relieves flu-like symptoms were not false. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed, finding that the jury verdict did not constitute plain error because Boiron presented sufficient evidence from which the jury could have concluded that Oscillo actually works against flu-like symptoms. This was a “battle of the experts” for the jury, the court wrote, that could not be relitigated on appeal. And the jury appeared to have believed Boiron’s expert, clinical studies, and anecdotal evidence more than it believed the plaintiff’s expert, according to the court.
The Ninth Circuit further noted that in explicitly finding that Boiron’s claim that Oscillo treated flu-like symptoms was not false, the jury must have implicitly rejected Plaintiff’s argument that Oscillo was merely a sugar pill or water sprayed on sugar. Nor did Plaintiff offer a theory of how Boiron’s representations could be false if the product did indeed treat flu symptoms.