There is a lawyer we worked with at another firm who had a standard move, kind of the way that Jerry Seinfeld had a standard “move” – and, come to think of it, with a similar intention. (“The Move” shows up in “Fusilli Jerry,” the 107th episode of Seinfeld.) In the face or fear of a hostile action against our client, this lawyer would file a declaratory judgment action in a friendly federal court. The concept, of course, was to seize the initiative and do some forum-shopping. Sometimes the action would be preemptive and sometimes it would be reactive. One would think that the timing would make a difference. But as today’s case, Monster Beverage Corp., v. Herrera, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 9012 (9th Cir. May 17, 2016), demonstrates, that ain’t necessarily so. We discussed the Monster case a couple of days after Labor Day in 2013, when Monster survived an attack on its preemptive preemption position. Here it is just a couple of days after Memorial Day in 2016, and the Ninth Circuit has ended the case on grounds of Younger abstention and the Anti-Injunction Act. That’s a long passage of time. The judicial process, especially the appellate phase (doubly so in the Ninth Circuit), can take a while. What happened in the interim?
First, please enjoy this reminder of what the Monster case was about. The San Francisco City Attorney wrote a letter to Monster informing it of an investigation into whether Monster’s marketing of its energy drinks was deceptive and bad in various other ways. Needless to say, the City Attorney’s beef was really with the federal regulatory regime that already governed what Monster could and could not say about its products. But San Francisco has been known to try to conduct its own foreign policy, so why should federal regulations stand in the way of its persistent effort to impose a nanny-state on its benighted citizens? Monster filed a preemptive declaratory judgment action in C.D. Cal. (good idea to drag the San Francisco City Attorney down to SoCal), seeking to shut down the investigation because it was preempted by federal law. Then the San Francisco City Attorney filed a complaint in San Francisco Superior Court, which Monster removed to federal court on grounds of federal question (preemption again), which the federal court remanded after rejecting the preemption argument. For those of you keeping score at home, that means there was a federal case in Dodger-land and a state case in Giant-land.
The San Francisco (honestly, by this point we are tired of writing the city name out in full, but Boranian warned us that we’d be jeered if we abbreviated the city’s name in any way) City Attorney, as is the case with all Bay Area denizens forced to contemplate anything south of Big Sur, must have seen the C.D. Cal. case as a vast annoyance. That was certainly the idea behind Monster’s maneuver. Not surprisingly, then, the City Attorney filed a motion to dismiss the declaratory judgment action in C.D. Cal., arguing that the preemption argument stood no chance. The federal court denied that motion to dismiss. That is the ruling we applauded back in September 2013.