New York Federal Court Puts Sparkling Lemon Water Labeling Claims on Ice
A New York federal district court has dismissed a consumer putative class action alleging that sparkling mineral waters were labeled in a misleading manner.1 The claims, premised on the consumer's "expectation" that the water contained more lemon ingredients than it actually did, included purported violations of New York's General Business Law. In dismissing the claims, the court found that a reasonable consumer would understand that the product did not contain a significant amount of lemon ingredients and instead was lemon flavored.
The product label at issue included phrases such as "Lemon and Lemon Zest" and "Contains No Juice," drawings of fresh full lemons, cut lemons, lemon peels and leaves, and a bottle wrapped in yellow cellophane. According to plaintiff, the cellophane color tricked consumers by making it appear that the product had an appreciable amount of lemon ingredients. In reality, the product consisted of flavor compounds imitating the taste provided by lemons.
Among the claims assessed by the court were violations of New York's Business Law prohibiting deceptive acts or practices and false advertising in the conduct of any business trade or commerce. The court held, as a matter of law, that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that a consumer would reasonably conclude from the label and packaging that the product contained an appreciable amount of real lemon ingredients. Importantly, the court noted that dismissal was warranted because the label made no claims about the ingredients constituting the flavor. The absence of a phrase such as "made with lemon" made a substantial difference in determining that the label represented lemon as a flavor, not an ingredient.
The court highlighted that the ingredient list stated only "Carbonated Mineral Water" and "Natural Flavors," and refuted plaintiff's argument that she should not have been obligated to review the list to contain "misleading" information on the package. The ingredient list was actually consistent with the representations elsewhere on the packaging that the product was a lemon-flavored mineral water. For similar reasons, the court also dismissed plaintiff's claims of negligent misrepresentation, breach of express warranty, breach of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, fraud and unjust enrichment.
The court's dismissal as a matter of law is significant because the question of whether a business practice or advertisement is misleading is oftentimes a factual question that survives a pre-answer motion to dismiss. In this instance, the court utilized a very straightforward approach in determining that a reasonable consumer would not expect a lemon ingredient if the labeling did not say "made with" and the ingredient list did not state "lemon." Indeed, in finding that the package and ingredients list would render any attempted amendment of the complaint as "futile," the court strongly signaled that plaintiff's claims lacked any zest.
1Angeles v. Nestlé USA, Inc., __ F. Supp. 3d __, 2022 WL 4626916 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2022).