A federal judge has stayed a class action lawsuit against Snapple in which the Plaintiffs maintain that the beverage company misled consumers by labeling its products “all natural,” when, in fact, the drinks actually contain high fructose corn syrup.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Lois H. Goodman stayed the suit for six months, pending a ruling by the Food and Drug Administration as to whether high fructose corn syrup qualifies as a natural ingredient. The FDA has not defined “natural” and has a policy of qualifying individual ingredients as “natural” on a case-by-case basis.

“The Court believes that it makes more sense to stay this action and seek the guidance of the FDA on whether [high fructose corn syrup] is indeed a natural ingredient or not, given that this issue is fundamental to the case presented by Plaintiff,” Judge Goodman wrote. “The interests underlying such a determination, including comity and consistency of decision making, will be better served by referring this question to the agency charged with regulation of the product at issue.”

Judge Goodman relied upon orders in similar suits against Snapple. In Coyle v. Hornell Brewing Co., also in New Jersey federal court, the plaintiffs challenged the “100% Natural” claims made on bottles of Snapple’s Arizona Iced Tea, which also contained high fructose corn syrup. And in Ries v. Hornell Brewing Co., a California federal judge similarly stayed the case to refer the issue to the FDA.

The decisions all expressed concern that without the FDA’s involvement, the cases would be subject to “inconsistent judicial constructions of ‘natural’ and as to whether [high fructose corn syrup]…is a natural ingredient.”

The court noted that the order could be extended beyond the six-month time period “if the FDA indicates an intention to promptly resolve the issue.”

To read the order in Holk v. Snapple Beverage Corp., click here.

To read the decision in Coyle v. Hornell Brewing Co., click here.

To read the order in Ries v. Hornell Brewing Co., click here.

Why it matters: While it is waiting to hear from the FDA in California and New Jersey, Snapple recently scored a victory in a similar case in New York. There, consumers filed suit alleging that Snapple deceptively advertised the “All Natural” label on Snapple’s non-diet beverages because the drinks contained high fructose corn syrup.

But a federal judge refused to certify a class. The named plaintiffs admitted that they had reasons other than the “All Natural” label for purchasing Snapple (such as taste), high fructose corn syrup was listed as an ingredient, and the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that they paid a premium for the “All Natural” label, U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote ruled.

To read the decision in Weiner v. Snapple, click here.