An Arkansas federal court has dismissed with prejudice a putative class action alleging that Twinings North America, Inc. mislabeled its tea by including the statement that the product is a “natural source of antioxidants” on its packaging. Craig v. Twinings North Am., Inc., No. 14-5214 (U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Ark., Fayetteville Div., order entered February 5, 2015). The plaintiff had argued that under the Arkansas Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (AFDCA), an act identical to the food labeling regulations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Twinings’ tea failed to meet the nutrient level threshold—10 percent or more of the recommended daily intake—required for a claim about the nutrient content of a product.
Twinings argued that the Arkansas law claims were preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) and could impose liability inconsistent with federal law. To assess the preemption argument, the court considered whether the statement “natural source of antioxidants” is a nutrient-content claim within the purview of the statute. Express nutrient-content claims make direct statements about the level of a nutrient in the product—like a specific calorie amount—and implied claims describe a product “in a manner that suggests that a nutrient is absent or present in a certain amount (e.g. ‘high in oat bran’); or suggests that the food, because of its nutrient content, may be useful in maintaining healthy dietary practices and is made in association with an explicit claim or statement about a nutrient (e.g., ‘healthy, contains 3 grams (g) of fat’),” the court noted. The statement on Twinings’ tea did not fall into either category, the court found.
Twinings also argued that tea and coffee are exempt from some FDA labeling requirements if they “contain insignificant amounts” of the nutrients and food components required to be detailed in the nutrition information as long as the product does not contain any nutrient-content claims. Finding no express or implicit nutrient-content claims, the court deemed the tea exempt from the labeling requirements.
Accordingly, the court determined that Twinings’ label statement did not constitute misbranding, and “[e]ven if Twinings’ labels contain nutrientcontent claims, the product labels do not violate the FDA’s labeling requirements because they do not characterize the level of antioxidants as required by [the statute]. Because Craig’s allegations do not violate the FDCA, any related state law claims arising from the same facts are preempted. If allowed to proceed, the state law claims would impose liability inconsistent with the FDCA.” The common law claims of breach of express and implied warranty of merchantability as well as unjust enrichment were also dismissed on the same grounds.
Plaintiffs alleging similar violations were certified in California as a statewide injunctive relief class in April 2014 after a court determined that the plaintiff failed to present an appropriate damages model. Details about the class certification appear in Issue 521 of this Update.