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Wagner v. General Nutrition Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 19, 2017

SEAN WAGNER, Individually and On Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff,
v.
GENERAL NUTRITION CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMY J. ST EVE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Defendant General Nutrition Corporation (“GNC”) has moved to deny class certification and dismiss Plaintiff Sean Wagner's (“Plaintiff”) Class Action Complaint (“CAC”) under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12 and 23. (R. 11.) For the following reasons, the Court denies GNC's motion.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         I. Plaintiff's Factual Allegations

         GNC is a large retailer of dietary supplements. (R. 1, CAC, ¶ 2.) Among the supplements GNC markets are Pro Performance L-Glutamine Powder 5000, Pro Performance L-Glutamine 1500, Pro Performance RapidDrive Glutamine 2500 Power Chew, and Pro Performance RapidDrive Glutamine 5000 (the “Products”). (Id.)

         Plaintiff is an Illinois citizen who purchased GNC's Pro Performance L-Glutamine Powder 5000 dietary supplement for his own use at a GNC retail store in Chicago for about $29.99. (Id. at ¶ 15.) He claims that he purchased and consumed the supplements “because [he] believed, based upon the misleading labels, that they enhanced muscle growth, provided faster recovery, and had anti-catabolic properties.” (Id. at ¶ 35.)

         The glutamine Products come in at least two forms-a chewable tablet or a powder. (Id. at ¶ 22.) The Products' labels indicate that the Products (1) have “Anti-Catabolic Effects, ” (2) “Support[] Muscle Function, ” and/or (3) “Support[] Faster Recovery After Workouts.” (Id.) Recovery “is the process of the fatigued muscles to recuperate and grow after resistance training, ” enabling further muscle growth. (Id. at ¶ 24.) “‘Anti-Catabolic' refers to the ability of a product to decrease muscle wasting in the user during exercise.” (Id. at ¶ 25.)

         Glutamine[2] “is a naturally-occurring, nonessential, neutral amino acid.” (Id. at ¶ 6.) It is a constituent of proteins and is important “as a means of nitrogen transport between tissues.” (Id.) “It is ‘nonessential' because the human body produces its own glutamine.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that many people, particularly athletes and bodybuilders, “are under the impression, perpetuated by the likes of [GNC] here, that a supplemented intake of glutamine has beneficial effects.” (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10.) While Plaintiff concedes that “[g]lutamine naturally found within the body does play a role in certain mechanisms supporting muscle growth, recovery and immunity support, ” he claims that “glutamine supplementation has been found to be completely ineffective at mimicking these physiological responses.” (Id. at ¶ 12.) In short, Plaintiff alleges that “the ingestion of GNC's Products does absolutely nothing for the recovery from exercise, recovery of muscle tissue or ability to decrease muscle wasting (anti-catabolic).” (Id. at ¶ 13.)

         Plaintiff bases his claims regarding the ineffectiveness of glutamine supplements on a number of studies. One study showed that “glutamine failed to affect muscle protein kinetics of the test subjects.” (Id. at ¶ 26.) In another study “involving healthy humans, glutamine was continuously infused for 2.5 hours at a rate corresponding to .4 grams/kg, which revealed that glutamine did not stimulate muscle protein synthesis.” (Id. at ¶ 27.) In a third study, researchers investigated the effect of glutamine on the plasma and muscle tissue glutamine concentrations of exercise-trained rates. (Id. at ¶ 28.) During the final three weeks of the six-week study, one group of rats received a daily dose of glutamine. (Id.) While “[t]he plasma and muscle glutamine levels were higher than placebo during the post-exhaustive recovery period, ” the “increase had no effect on the exercise swim test to exhaustion performance, which means that elevations in plasma and muscle glutamine levels have no benefit on muscle performance.” (Id.)

         A fourth study investigated “the effect of oral glutamine supplementation combined with resistance training in young adults.” (Id. at ¶ 29.) Subjects received either a placebo or glutamine during six weeks of resistance training. (Id.) “Results showed that muscle strength, torque, fat-free mass, and urinary 3-methyl histidine (a marker of muscle protein degradation) all significantly increased with training, but were not different between the groups.” (Id.)

         A fifth study examined “the effects of a combination of effervescent creatine, ribose, and glutamine on muscle strength, endurance, and body composition in resistance-trained men.” (Id. at ¶ 30.) Subjects performed resistance training for eight weeks and received either a placebo or an experimental supplement containing creatine, glutamine, and ribose. (Id.) While both groups of subjects improved muscle strength, endurance, and fat-free mass, the groups were not significantly different from one another. (Id.)

         A sixth study investigated the effects of creatine monohydrate and glutamine supplementation on body composition and performance measures. (Id. at ¶ 31.) Subjects engaged in an eight-week resistance training program and received either a placebo, creatine monohydrate (.3 grams/kg/day for one week and then .03 grams/kg/day for seven weeks), or the same dose of creatine in addition to 4 grams of glutamine per day. (Id.) The creatine and the creatine glutamine groups experienced body mass and fat-free mass increases at a greater rate than the placebo group as well as a greater improvement in the initial rate of muscle power production. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that “[t]hese results suggest that the creatine and creatine glutamine groups were equally effective in producing skeletal adaption to resistance training and that glutamine apparently had no preferential effect in augmenting the results.” (Id.)

         A seventh study examined if high-dose glutamine ingestion affected weightlifting performance. (Id. at ¶ 32.) In “a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, resistance-trained men performed weightlifting exercise one hour after ingesting placebo . . . or glutamine (.3 g/kg).” (Id.) According to Plaintiffs, “[r]esults demonstrated no significant differences in weightlifting performance (maximal repetitions on the bench press and leg press exercises), indicating that the short-term ingestion of glutamine did not enhance weightlifting performance in resistance-trained men.” (Id.)

         An eighth study investigated “whether glutamine ingestion influenced acid-base balance or improved high-intensity exercise performance.” (Id. at ¶ 33.) The “[r]esults showed that blood pH, bicarbonate, and lactate, along with time to fatigue, were not significantly different between supplement conditions, indicating that the acute ingestion of L-Glutamine did not enhance either buffering potential or high-intensity exercise performance in trained males.” (Id.)

         Finally, in the ninth study Plaintiff cites, researchers examined “whether oral glutamine, by itself or in combination with hyperoxia, influenced oxidative metabolism or cycle time-trial performance in men.” (Id. at ¶ 34.) Subjects received either a placebo or a glutamine supplement one hour before completing a brief high-intensity time-trial. (Id.) “The results showed no significant difference in pulmonary oxygen uptake during the exercise test, thereby indicating no effect of glutamine ingestion either alone or in combination with hyperoxia.” (Id. at ¶ 34.)

         Plaintiff claims that “GNC's labeling of the Products was misleading, ” that he “w[as] in fact misled by GNC's representations regarding the efficacy of the Products, ” and that he would not have purchased any of the Products had he known that they “did not provide the health benefits as advertised on the label.” (Id. at ¶¶ 36-37, 39.) He further alleges that “[t]he lack of benefits provided to consumers by the Products fully diminishes the actual value of the Products.” (Id. at ¶ 38.)

         II. Plaintiffs Claims and Proposed Classes

         Plaintiff indicates in the CAC that he seeks certification of three classes:

National Class: All persons in the United States who purchased the Products.
Consumer Fraud Multi-State Class: All persons in the States of California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, and ...

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