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On June 12, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied Tropicana’s motion to dismiss a false advertising suit. In Lynch v. Tropicana Products, Inc., the plaintiffs alleged that the juice’s label falsely claimed that its modified “not-from-concentrate” orange juice is 100% pure and natural orange juice, even though it is processed, colored, and flavored. The plaintiffs claimed that Tropicana should have disclosed the use of flavoring on the label’s statements of ingredients. The plaintiffs specifically attacked Tropicana’s use of the iconic image of an orange punctured with a straw, claiming that the use of the picture confuses and misleads consumers.
Tropicana argued that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-established standard of identity of pasteurized orange juice expressly and broadly preempts state labeling rules imposing different labeling requirements. The plaintiffs countered that the state law claims focused on the same requirements as the federal regulations, namely “the truthful, complete, and accurate labeling of each ingredient contained in each product.” The Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), which provides the basis for FDA regulation of nutrition labels, expressly preempts state laws that are narrowly directed at nutrition labeling and health claims only. Therefore, states may not impose a standard of identity on a food that is subject to the FDA standard of identity unless the state standard is identical to the federal standard. Because the plaintiffs’ claims involve an alleged failure to meet the requirements of the federal law, not a state standard that deviates from or adds to such requirements, the court held that the NLEA did not preempt the claims.
Tropicana also argued that the complaint failed to allege facts demonstrating a reasonable expectation that the processing of the orange juice was all-natural. Tropicana contended that because it disclosed the word “pasteurized” on its front label in large capital letters, it was unreasonable for a consumer to believe that the statement “100% pure and natural orange juice” meant that the juice was akin to fresh-squeezed orange juice. However, the court stated that just because Tropicana labeled the juice as pasteurized “does not inherently provide a shield for liability for the deception that the juice contained no flavoring or is 100% pure and natural orange juice.”
The decision will not curb the recent influx of false advertising litigation directed towards food products. Plaintiffs are frequently having more success at the motion to dismiss stage when filing complaints that allege both federal and state claims.
 Lynch v. Tropicana Prod., Inc., No. 2:11-cv-07382 (D.N.J. June, 12, 2013) available at http://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/new-jersey/njdce/2:2011cv07382/268406/51/0.pdf?1371125803t, [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]
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