Federal Court Dismisses Claims that SoBe Lifewater Beverage Labels Violated California Law & Federal Warranty Law

A federal court in Los Angeles, California dismissed claims that a subsidiary of PepsiCo. violated a variety of California laws and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (“MMWA”) by misrepresenting its no-calorie, vitamin enhanced, flavored water drinks. Hairston v. South Beach Beverage Co., Inc., No. 12-civ-1429-JFW (C.D. Cal. May 18, 2012).

The plaintiff made three specific allegations about Lifewater:

  1. He alleged that the labels on SoBe 0 Calorie Lifewater beverages were deceptive because they declared the products to be “all natural” when, in fact, their ingredients are “synthetic or created via chemical processing.”
  2. He contended that the use of names such as “MacIntosh Apple Cherry,” “Strawberry Kiwi Lemonade,” and “Black Cherry Dragonfruit” to describe the products’ flavors was potentially misleading because Lifewater does not contain actual fruit or fruit juice.
  3. He alleged that the use of common vitamin names such as B12 was misleading because the vitamins added to Lifewater are synthetic or created through chemical processing.

The court determined that federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, together with implementing regulations promulgated by the Food and Drug Administration, preempted the plaintiff’s claims regarding the defendants’ use of names of fruits to describe the flavors of Lifewater, as well as his claims regarding the use of common vitamin names. With regard to the plaintiff’s claims regarding use on the product label of the term “all natural,” the court observed that “Lifewater does not use the ‘all natural’ language in a vacuum, and, thus, it will be impossible for plaintiff to allege how the ‘all natural’ language is deceptive without relying on the preempted statements regarding fruit names and vitamins.” Moreover, the court concluded that “no reasonable consumer would read the ‘all natural’ language as modifying the ‘with vitamins’ language and believe that the added vitamins are supposed to be ‘all natural vitamins.'” Lastly, the court pointed out that the MMWA does not apply “to any written warranty the making or content of which is otherwise governed by federal law” (quoting 15 U.S.C. ยง 2311 (d)), and held that, in any event, the Lifewater label did not meet applicable definitions of a written warranty under the MMWA.

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