A California federal court dismissed a majority of claims in a proposed class action accusing Honest Tea Inc. of dishonestly marketing its Honey Green Tea as a source of antioxidants. However, the court refused to dismiss claims over the use of the word “honest,” which plaintiff alleges the company uses to define its product image.
Lead plaintiff Sarah A. Salazar sued the beverage company last fall, alleging that she would not have purchased the honey green tea had she known the truth about the product’s antioxidant content. The plaintiff also claimed that the use of the word “honest” contributed to the deceptive nature of the company’s advertising campaigns.
U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller granted Honest Tea’s motion to dismiss Salazar’s claims regarding the company’s alleged misrepresentations about the antioxidant levels. The Judge found that Salazar’s state law claims are preempted by the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). According to the court’s order, in order for Salazar’s state law claims to be permitted, they must allege that the beverage's labels violate the FDCA’s labeling requirements. However, the order stated that “because defendant’s label statements are nutrient content claims, their accuracy must be challenged under the 12-sample test method. … Yet, the Complaint does not allege plaintiff tested Honey Green Tea using this method. Consequently, the Complaint does not show that defendant’s statements on the product labels violate the FDCA’s labeling requirements. Because plaintiff’s allegations do not show a violation of the FDCA, plaintiff’s state law claims are preempted.” The court then dismissed these state law claims because they are preempted by federal law.
The court upheld claims based on the company’s use of “honest,” citing that such claims are complex and the usage of “honest” in the company’s branding campaign could be misleading to consumers. The court considered these claims to be beyond puffery as the company is attempting to paint itself as a “refreshingly” and “brutally” honest brand.
Finally, the court held the lead plaintiff has standing to bring her claims with respect to both the post-2011 beverage that she actually purchased and the pre-2011 beverage that she did not purchase. The court held “plaintiff has alleged sufficient similarity between the Honey Green Tea she purchased and the Honey Green Tea she did not,” the order said. “Specifically, defendant has not changed the formulation of the Honey Green Tea from 2008 throughout 2013; thus, it is fair to say the products were identical.”
Tip: When defending a consumer class action, always consider preemption arguments when filing a motion to dismiss where regulations speak to the issues raised in the plaintiff’s case.