“100% Pure and Natural” Claims Not Preempted in Putative Class Action Against Tropicana Orange Juice
In Lynch v. Tropicana Products, Inc., a Federal District Court in New Jersey refused to toss a putative class action against Tropicana alleging that its “100% pure and natural” claim, and its advertisement showing an orange being “pierced” by a straw ― inferring that the consumer is essentially drinking right from the orange ― is false and misleading.
Tropicana argued that the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”), as amended by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, preempted the plaintiffs’ Complaint. Tropicana claimed that the crux of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit was the failure to disclose certain information about producing pasteurized orange juice, but that the FDCA only required that the product label identify that the orange juice was pasteurized — which Tropicana disclosed on the label. Tropicana asserted that the lawsuit improperly attempted to impose a “patchwork of state labeling requirements” that were “not identical to” the FDCA standards, therefore, the plaintiffs’ claims were preempted by the federal law. The plaintiffs, in turn, focused their argument on Tropicana’s failure to disclose the addition of flavoring on the product label because such flavor packets constitute an “ingredient,” and all ingredients must be listed on the label. The plaintiffs argued that state law provides for the same standard as federal law — “the truthful, complete, and accurate labeling of each ingredient contained in the product” — so the Complaint did not seek to impermissibly impose a “different” requirement.
The Court explained that state law claims are preempted if they impose a broader obligation than the federal law, but such claims are not preempted if they are “identical to” federal regulations. Agreeing with the plaintiffs’ claim that the Complaint was based upon Tropicana’s false advertising due to the failure to disclose the added flavor packs as an ingredient — rather than the failure to detail the pasteurization process — the Court concluded that the Complaint was not preempted. The Court found that the state and federal regulations were identical, i.e., they both focused on “accurate and complete labeling of a product’s ingredients,” so the Complaint did not seek to impose a varying state standard upon Tropicana. The Court denied in part and granted in part Tropicana’s motion to dismiss the remaining state law claims of, inter alia, consumer fraud, unjust enrichment, and breach of express warranty.
Consumer demand for healthier, “all natural” products has led to an increased number of lawsuits against manufacturers regarding the advertising and labeling of their products. Manufacturers have increasingly relied upon federal preemption arguments to dispose of the lawsuits; but some courts take a narrow view of what claims are truly “identical” to federal law.