A federal court in Washington has dismissed without prejudice a number of claims in a putative class action alleging that the producer and seller of a vitamin water product misled consumers by failing to disclose that the product contains caffeine or its relative amount and falsely represents that the product is a “natural tonic” and contains “natural caffeine.” Maple v. Costco Wholesale Corp., No. 12-5166 (U.S. Dist. Ct., E.D. Wash., order entered August 1, 2013). While the court determined that the plaintiff had standing by rejecting Costco’s contention that the labeling on one product unit was not visible through the packaging encasing the variety packs in which it is sold, it found that federal law preempts claims that the defendants were required to disclose the presence of caffeine or state its relative amount in the drink.
Among the claims that the court dismissed for insufficient pleading were (i) violation of the state’s consumer protection act, because the plaintiff failed to alleged that he actually read the product label or relied on it in making his purchasing decision; (ii) fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, because the plaintiff cannot state a claim for misrepresentation arising from the omission of information on a product label and because he failed to allege that he read or relied on the labels before making his purchase; (iii) negligence, because the plaintiff failed to plead the existence of a duty of care. Disagreeing with the defendants’ argument that any amendment would be futile, the court gave the plaintiff 14 days to file a second amended complaint.
The court found that the plaintiff had adequately alleged misrepresentation claims arising from the “natural caffeine” and “natural tonic” statements on the label for “VitaRain Tropical Mango Vitamin Enhanced Water Beverage.” According to the complaint, the product “is manufactured using gelatin capsules that contain caffeine in powdered form . . . [that] is synthetic and not natural,” and “contains unnatural ingredients and ingredients derived from synthetic and/or non-natural processes, including, but not limited to, synthetic caffeine, sucralose and acesulfame potassium.”