A California federal court has dismissed fraud claims against R.C. Bigelow in a putative class action accusing the company of advertising that its tea “delivers healthful antioxidants” when the levels of antioxidants are too low to benefit the consumer. Victor v. R.C. Bigelow, No. 13-2976 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., order entered July 18, 2014). The court allowed to proceed the plaintiff’s claim that Bigelow’s antioxidants assertion on its packaging violated California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) based on the “unlawful” prong, but it dismissed with prejudice his claims that Bigelow had violated the “fraud” prong of the UCL.
Despite arguing the importance of the word “deliver,” the plaintiff failed to prove that the phrase “delivers healthy antioxidants” represented that the product contained a high enough level of antioxidants to provide health benefits to the tea drinker; as the court had previously allowed the plaintiff to amend his complaint, the claims relating to fraudulent and misleading labeling were dismissed with prejudice.
The sole remaining claim accuses Bigelow of making unlawful claims about its tea’s antioxidants levels. “While federal food labeling laws and regulations require a manufacturer to use only approved nutrient claims on a food label, none of Bigelow’s tea products contain an antioxidant nutrient accepted by regulation; thus the use of ‘antioxidant’ on its product labels violates labeling rules.” The court also noted that the products “do not conform with regulations specifically governing antioxidants and terms such as ‘healthful.’” In addition, the antioxidant claims could subject purchasers to criminal liability because “‘unlikely’ as it is that a California consumer would be subject to jail time and a criminal fine for possessing misbranded food, California does criminalize the possession of misbranded goods.” Finding this potential criminal liability sufficient to support the unlawful claim, the court denied Bigelow’s motion to dismiss.