BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (Legal Newsline) – A lawsuit claiming Nestle bottled water produced and distributed as "100 percent spring water" is a fraud has been dismissed by a court because federal law preempts any action citing state statutes.
The class action, filed in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut, claimed that the company named its product Poland Spring even though it contained "not one drop...from a water source that complies with the Food and Drug Administration definition of 'spring water,'" according to the complaint.
But the action failed in the District of Connecticut because any state action is preempted by the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FDCA), which gives the Federal Drug Administration sole power to take such a false advertising case, the court ruled May 17.
The FDCA prohibits private actions for violations and under the Act, states have to use identical language if writing their own statutes.
While the plaintiffs, initially 11 residents of the Northeast but joined by others, have been told they can amend and refile, it is a strategy that is unlikely to work, according to Lawrence Weinstein, an advertising law expert with the Proskauer Rose legal firm.
Weinstein cautioned that this is a very narrow ruling that relates specifically to the regulations covering spring water.
"Unless overturned it may spell the death knell for (private) lawsuits over spring water, but that is a minuscule number of cases," Weinstein told Legal Newsline.
The attorney described preemption as not a favored defense in many cases, that it is "entirely fact-dependent, and by looking carefully at the facts and the statutory language of the applicable federal law."
"But it is an Interesting reminder to practitioners that sometimes the doctrine of preemption is available," Weinstein said.
District Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer made it clear his ruling was not a judgment on the underlying claims.
"Although I reject many of Nestlé’s arguments, I agree with Nestlé that plaintiffs’ claims are all preempted by federal law," he wrote in the order granting the motion to dismiss.
Alexander Schmidt, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, revised the claims in a filing June 15.
Under federal law, spring water must be sourced from underground with a "natural force causing the water to flow to the surface," the ruling states.