Arizona Beverages Prevails in Iced Tea Lawsuit

Josh Long, Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider

April 9, 2013

3 Min Read
Arizona Beverages Prevails in Iced Tea Lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCOA federal judge last month threw out a class-action lawsuit that alleged "All Natural" labels on AriZona Iced Tea drinks were deceptive and misleading because they contained citric acid and high fructose corn syrup.

Richard Seeborg, a U.S. District Court Judge in San Francisco, granted summary judgment against the named plaintiffs, Lauren Ries and Serena Algozer, and in favor of the defendants, Arizona Beverages USA LLC, Hornell Brewing Company, Inc., Beverage Marketing USA, Inc. and Ferolito, Vultaggio & Sons, Inc.

The 13-page order highlighted the shortcomings of the plaintiffs' lawyers, who failed to produce a single expert in the three-year-old case, which had been set for a May 13, 2013 trial. The plaintiffs' attorneys neglected to disclose expert witnesses or provide expert testimony reports by deadlines, and they didn't respond to their adversaries' contention that plaintiffs failed to support their claims for restitution or disgorgement, according to the March 28, 2013 order.

Plaintiffs "offer not a scintilla of evidence from which a finder of fact could determine the amount of restitution or disgorgement to which plaintiffs might be entitled if this case were to proceed to trial," Seeborg declared in his order.  

The judge also granted a request to decertify the class, resulting in the demise of the class-action lawsuit, because he determined plaintiffs' counsel couldn't adequately represent the class members.

"Since this class was certified, the Court has found that plaintiffs' counsel has been dilatory and has failed to prosecute this action adequately," the judge, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who was nominated by President Obama to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, stated.

The case would have proceeded to trial had plaintiffs produced evidence to show a genuine factual dispute over whether the "All Natural" labels were false or likely to deceive consumers based on the theory that citric acid and high fructose corn syrup are man-made ingredients rather than natural substances.

But plaintiffs produced no expert witnesses, Seeborg refused to take "judicial notice" of the fact that patents had been issued for the process of producing high fructose corn syrup, and he found the deposition of Hornell Brewing Company's owner, Don Vultaggio, unpersuasive in support of plaintiffs' claim that consumers are likely to be confused by the ice tea labels.

Plaintiffs "have neither intrinsic evidence that the labels are false (because HFCS and citric acid are not natural) or extrinsic evidence that a significant portion of the consuming public would be confused by them," Seeborg wrote.

An expert witness for the defendants, Rutgers University food scientist Dr. Thomas Montville, posited that citric acid and high fructose corn syrup are natural substances. Defendants also provided declarations from their suppliers that the substances are natural.

The complaint had sought restitution, disgorgement of profits, injunctive relief and attorneys fees under California laws, including the False Advertising Law, the Unfair Competition Law and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act. The alleged misleading statements on the labels included "100% Natural", "Natural" and "All Natural".

About the Author(s)

Josh Long

Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider, Informa Markets Health and Nutrition

Josh Long directs the online news, feature and op-ed coverage at Natural Products Insider, which targets the health and wellness industry. He has been reporting on developments in the dietary supplement industry for over a decade, with a focus on regulatory issues, including at the Food and Drug Administration.

He has moderated and/or presented at industry trade shows, including SupplySide East, SupplySide West, Natural Products Expo West, NBJ Summit and the annual Dietary Supplement Regulatory Summit.

Connect with Josh on LinkedIn and ping him with story ideas at [email protected]

Education and previous experience

Josh majored in journalism and graduated from Arizona State University the same year "Jake the Snake" Plummer led the Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes. He also holds a J.D. from the University of Wyoming College of Law, was admitted in 2008 to practice law in the state of Colorado and spent a year clerking for a state district court judge.

Over more than a quarter century, he’s written on various topics for newspapers and business-to-business publications – from the Yavapai in Arizona and a controversial plan for a nuclear-waste incinerator in Idaho to nuanced issues, including FDA enforcement of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

Since the late 1990s, his articles have been published in a variety of media, including but not limited to, the Cape Cod Times (in Massachusetts), Sedona Red Rock News (in Arizona), Denver Post (in Colorado), Casper Star-Tribune (in Wyoming), now-defunct Jackson Hole Guide (in Wyoming), Colorado Lawyer (published by the Colorado Bar Association) and Nutrition Business Journal.

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