A federal court in California has dismissed with prejudice a putative class
action filed in March 2012 against the companies that make a line of SoBe®
beverages known as 0 Calories Lifewater®. Hairston v. S. Beach Beverage Co.,
Inc., No. 12-1429 (C.D. Cal., decided May 18, 2012). Further details
about the case appear in Issue 429 of this Update.

According to the court, state-law consumer-fraud claims based on the use of fruit names to describe the different Lifewater flavors and the use of common vitamin names instead of the vitamins’ chemical names are preempted by federal law which allows both types of labeling. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, said the court, “explicitly permit manufacturers ‘to use the name and images of a fruit on a product’s packaging to describe the characterizing flavor of the product even where the product does not contain any of that fruit, or contains no fruit at all.’” As well, FDA regulations permit the synonyms “Vitamin C” and “Ascorbic acid” to be used “in the alternative in a product’s nutritional information labeling.”

Because the “all natural” label designation was immediately followed by
references to the fruit names and common vitamin names, the court found
that the plaintiff’s consumer fraud claims relating to the term “all natural”
also failed. In this regard, the court stated, “it will be impossible for Plaintiff
to allege how the ‘all natural’ language is deceptive without relying on the
preempted statements regarding the fruit names and vitamins.” The court
also observed that any ambiguity from the perspective of the reasonable
consumer is “clarified by the detailed information contained in the ingredient
list, which explains the exact contents of Lifewater.” Thus, the court ruled “that
the challenge to the ‘all natural’ language on Defendants’ Lifewater is not
deceptive as a matter of law.”

The court further determined that the plaintiff could not state a breach of warranty claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act because it is expressly “inapplicable to any written warranty the making or content of which is otherwise governed by Federal law,” here, the federal labeling regulations that “govern the Lifewater labeling challenged by Plaintiff.” According to the court, the plaintiff also failed to allege sufficient facts to sustain a warranty claim “because the label neither promises a defect-free product, nor guarantees a level of performance over a specific period of time. The challenged statements—‘all natural with vitamins’ and the names of various Lifewater flavors—are ‘product descriptions’ rather than promises that Lifewater is defect-free, or guarantees specific performance levels.” The court dismissed the complaint without providing the plaintiff an opportunity to amend, finding that no amendment could cure its shortcomings.

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.