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A consumer has filed a class action alleging that juice marketed as healthy contains harmful chemicals. The case is styled Joseph Lurenz versus The Coca-Cola Company and The Simply Orange Juice Company. It was filed recently in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. A copy of the Complaint can be found here.
The suit alleges that the Plaintiff purchased Simply Tropical juice drink (the “Product”), which is specifically differentiated from competing products as made with “all natural ingredients.” The suit refers to the marketing of the Product, particularly on its packaging, as well as external marketing, including on social media. Among other things, Plaintiff’s Complaint references the incorporation of the word “Simply” into the Product’s brand name, which it alleges “is intentionally designed to drive sales and increase profits by targeting health-conscious consumers who reasonably believe that the Product is all-natural and therefore free from synthetic or artificial ingredients which are known to be harmful to human health.” Plaintiff also references statements by the Defendants on their website, including the “philosophy that ‘the best things in life are made simply,’ with ‘simple ingredients and the great taste of Nature.’” Plaintiff’s Complaint also targets other marketing slogans by Defendants, including “Because with Simply, there’s nothing to hide.”
Plaintiff contends that, despite Defendants’ statements about the Product, Plaintiff’s own testing revealed that the Product contains per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (“PFAs”), which he alleges are “a category of synthetic chemicals that are, by definition, not natural.” He alleges that PFAs are “a group of synthetic, man-made chemicals known to be harmful to both humans in the environment” and that because “PFAs persist and accumulate over time, they are harmful even at low levels.” Plaintiff alleges that the man-made PFAs chemicals are “sometimes called ‘forever chemicals’ because they bioaccamulate, or build up in the body over time.” Plaintiff’s Complaint includes several allegations regarding the associated risks of PFAs. Among other things, Plaintiff alleges that the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) “has identified that ‘[c]urrent peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that exposure to certain levels of PFAs’” may lead to certain problems including reproductive effects in pregnant women, developmental effects or delays in children, and increased risk of some cancers. Significantly, Plaintiff alleges that his testing revealed that the Product contains certain PFAs in amounts more than 100 times the EPA’s recommended levels.
The class action lawsuit focuses on alleged misstatements in the marketing of the Product as all-natural when it contains harmful chemicals. Based on these allegations, Plaintiff raises several claims, including for breach of express warranty and fraud, as well as claims under several consumer protection statutes. Plaintiff seeks damages on a class-wide basis, including in the form of actual damages, statutory damages, civil penalties, and punitive damages. This case is early in the litigation process, and we are continuing to monitor this matter for developments.
Litigation volume related to PFAS compounds has steadily increased over the past ten (10) years, originally driven by claims against 3M and Dupont for their Scotchgard and Teflon products respectively. However, as evidenced by this recent suit, the breadth of claims related to these chemicals has increased substantially. Freeman, Mathis & Gary is actively involved in multi-district litigation related to alleged PFAS exposure, and have written other blogs and provided Webinars on PFAS risks, regulations and claim forecasts. Those are accessible on the firm’s website. For more information, please contact Joshua Ferguson or Matthew Foree.