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From Health Law Daily, March 5, 2013

Consumers’ action against orange juice makers to proceed

By Michelle L. Oxman, JD, LLM

Consumers’ claims for deceptive trade practices against the manufacturers of orange juice will be allowed to proceed (In re: Simply Orange Orange Juice Marketing & Sales Practices Litigation, March 1, 2013, Gaitan, F). Neither the approval of the labels by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) preempted the consumers’ claims under state deceptive trade practices laws.

The complaint. Thirteen plaintiffs, whose claims were consolidated in a multidistrict action, alleged that the Coca-Cola Company’s (Coca Cola’s) advertisements and labels for Simply Orange Juice, Minute Maid Pure Squeezed, and Minute Maid Premium using terms such as “100% pure squeezed,” “pure squeezed,” “not from concentrate,” and “100 percent pure” were deceptive because they failed to disclose the extensive processing and the addition of significant quantities of orange oil or orange essence to mask the changes in flavor caused by the processing. The labels and long-running advertising campaigns led consumers to believe that the products were 100 percent orange juice without additives, encouraging them to pay a premium price. The consumers alleged that they would not have paid that price for the product if it had been accurately described.

Preemption. Coca Cola argued that the consumers’ claims under state law were preempted, i.e., the FD&C Act did not allow states to impose standards for food that exceeded or differed from federal standards. Because the FDA had approved the labeling of the juice, Coca Cola argued, it was protected from any claims under state law based on the labeling. The court accepted the consumers’ argument that the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (P.L. 101-535) reflected a congressional intent not to preempt consumer protection laws. It noted that the FDA had stated in rulemaking that state laws with standards identical to the federal standards are not preempted. The court ruled that where the state laws addressed matters that were not addressed in the FD&C Act, they were not preempted. Although the consumers could not use state law to impose more stringent requirements than the FDA, they could enforce state law requirements that mirrored federal law.

Other deficiencies in the complaint. Coca Cola also argued that the consumers’ complaint did not satisfy the requirements for pleading in consumer fraud cases because there were no allegations of reliance on specific statements in advertising or on labels when they purchased the product. However, the court ruled that reliance on specific statements was unnecessary when the statements were made in an extensive, long-term advertising campaign.

The case numbers are: MDL 2361, Master Case No. 4:12-MD-02361-FJG.

Attorneys: Adam R. Moore (Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP) for The Coca-Cola Company; The Minute Maid Company, a division of Coca-Cola Company. Anthony R. Martinez (Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP) for Simply Orange Juice Company.

Companies: The Coca-Cola Company; The Minute Maid Company, a division of Coca-Cola Company; Simply Orange Juice Company

MainStory: TopStory PreemptionNews MissouriNews

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