Judge Hangs Poland Spring Class Action Out to Dry

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CN) – Consumers must amend a massive fraud class action that accuses Poland Spring of mislabeling its bottled water, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer did not reach the merits of the claims that Poland Spring’s “100% natural spring water” is groundwater from artificial sites, finding instead Thursday that federal law pre-empts the allegations.

In a 325-page federal class action filed last August, a class led by 11 consumers accused Stamford-based Nestle Waters of perpetrating a “colossal fraud” by selling billions of gallons of water mislabeled as “100% natural spring water.” The actual source, they claim, is eight artificial springs in Maine. The consumers argued they paid higher prices believing that the ordinary groundwater Nestle sells is actually pure spring water.

Their claims were consolidated with four others, and Meyer dismissed all but one on Thursday.

Fatal to their suit, the judge said that the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act grants the federal government the exclusive authority to decide FDCA violations.

“Each and every one of plaintiffs’ claims are wholly FDCA-dependent,” the 22-page ruling states. Meyer notes that the principal complaint alleges the water products “do not comply with the FDA’s ‘standard of identity’ for spring water,” and that the collection of water from the sites in Maine fails to comply to FDA requirements.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision to dismiss this meritless lawsuit,” said Nestle general counsel Charles Broll said in a statement. “Poland Spring is what we have always said it is – 100% natural spring water, meeting all FDA regulations for spring water.  Consumers can be confident in the honesty and accuracy of the labels on every bottle of Poland Spring.”

Nestle also used the dismissal of the lawsuit to announce the results of an independent investigation into whether Poland Spring meets federal spring water identity standards. Led by DLA Piper at the request of Nestle, the investigation team confirmed the determinations of state regulators that the water is properly labeled.

Though a fifth case against Nestle remains, Meyer noted that it was not consolidated in the action against Nestle until after the motion to dismiss was filed.

Meyer said he opted not to dismiss the case even though by all accounts his ruling “would apply with equal force to” it.

Nestle has 30 days to seek the fifth complaint’s dismissal, and the plaintiffs have 30 days to amend their claims.

New Jersey attorney Alexander H. Schmidt, one of the lawyers representing the consumers, emphasized meanwhile that Schmidt shot down several other attempts by Nestle to dismiss the case before focusing on federal pre-emption.

“Plaintiffs’ appreciate that the court rejected all of Nestle’s arguments except one, ” said Schmidt. “The decision did not address the accuracy of our detailed factual allegations, which we look forward to proving.”

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