LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California Philip S. Gutierrez has agreed to dismiss the request for punitive damages in a lawsuit accusing an iced tea maker of false advertising.
According to a motion to dismiss filed by the defense in the case of Angerlia Martin et al. v. Tradewinds Beverage Co., the defendant sells several iced tea beverages that contain the label “100 percent Natural” and/or “100 percent Natural Ingredients.” The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Tradewinds alleging that because the beverages contain a caramel color additive, which is an artificial ingredient, the label contains false advertising.
The defense made seven arguments to form the basis of its motion to dismiss the lawsuit. These arguments are based around whether the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has jurisdictiont, if the plaintiff has standing to sue over products that she has not purchased, if she possesses the standing to seek injunctive relief, her rights under the Unfair Competition Law (UCL), the rules for arguing a breach of express and implied warranty and the plaintiff's claim for punitive damages.
In its first argument, the defense made the case that the court lacks jurisdiction over the case because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently in the process of determining what rules apply to how natural labeling processes are defined. The court denied this argument on the basis that the FDA has already established that the presence of any added coloring products invalidates the claim that a food product is "all natural," and that no change to this is likely coming.
The second argument revolves around the plaintiff's ability to claim standing in regards to products not purchased. The defense argues that because the plaintiff did not purchase all of the products named in the complaint she lacks standing. The court dismissed this argument on the ground that despite not being purchased by the plaintiff, all of the products named in the complaint are substantially similar in ways that allow them to be included in the lawsuit.
In the third argument, the defense argued that the plaintiff lacked the necessary standing to claim injunctive relief. The court accepted this claim on the ground that the plaintiff cannot make a reasonable argument that she will purchase the products again in the future and because the "100 percent natural" label has been removed from the products.
The fourth argument focused around the defense's claim that the complaint fails to meet the demands of California's Unfair Competition Law, which prohibits any “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice" and requires a complaint to demonstrate that a reasonable consumer could be misled by any fraudulent advertising. In this case, the court disagreed again, arguing that Tradewind's claims of "100 percent natural" products would mislead a reasonable consumer.
In the fifth argument, the defense pointed out that California's breach of warranty laws require plaintiffs to notify the defendant before filing a claim. However the court countered by pointing out that because the plaintiff purchased the products through a store and not directly from the plaintiff, no further notification was needed.
In the sixth argument for dismissal, the defense argued that the plaintiff does not have grounds to state that the defendant violated the California Commercial Code warranty of merchantability, which requires that goods must be fit for ordinary purposes for which such goods are used. The court agreed with the defense, arguing that the plaintiff has failed to make a case that Tradewinds failed to demonstrate merchantability.
In the seventh and final argument, the defense made the case that the court should dismiss the plaintiff's claims for punitive damages. On this claim, the court sided with defense, ruling that "none of the allegations in the complaint provide a factual foundation to suggest that defendant intentionally and knowingly engaged in malicious, fraudulent, or oppressive activities, and plaintiff fails to even address the issue in her opposition brief."
In response on May 31, the plaintiff submitted an amended complaint to the court.