Another Court Stays Litigation over Whether HFCS Is “Natural”
A U.S. magistrate judge in New Jersey has issued an order staying a case that alleges “natural” labeling for Snapple beverages is misleading because the product contains high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which plaintiffs contend is not an all-natural ingredient. Holk v. Snapple Beverage Corp., No. 07-3018 (D.N.J., order entered August 10, 2010). The parties drew the court’s attention to a stay issued in similar litigation involving Arizona Iced Tea® beverages. Additional information about that case appears in Issue 356 of this Update.
The stay will remain in effect for six months, pending a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review of the matter. “That time period may be extended for good cause shown, in the event the FDA shows a willingness to consider this issue but needs more time to do so. If, on the other hand, the FDA declines to consider the issue, counsel are directed to notify the Court promptly so that the case can be returned to active status.” The court also denied plaintiff’s motion for class certification and the parties’ motions to disqualify experts without prejudice to their rights to refile when and if the stay is lifted.
The magistrate determined that under the primary jurisdiction doctrine the agency was in a better position to address whether HFCS is a natural ingredient and that a stay would not prejudice either party. While the matter was ripe for decision, because various motions had been filed and fully briefed, the magistrate sided with those courts that had issued stays rather than those that had decided to move ahead. The magistrate was concerned that to move forward would “leave open the possibility of inconsistent judicial constructions of ‘natural’ and as to whether HFCS and citric acid are natural ingredients.” (citing Ries v. Hornell Brewing Co., No. 10-1139 (N.D. Cal., stay entered July 28, 2010)).