When the Last Label Gets Corrected the Lawsuit May Be Over

The Northern District of California recently ruled that a consumer had no standing to pursue class action claims for injunctive relief after tea maker Twinings removed certain labeling about antioxidants from its packages.

In May 2012, Nancy Lanovaz sued Twinings North America, Inc. alleging causes of action under California’s Unfair Competition law (UCL), False Advertising Law (FAL), and Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). Lanovaz’s claims arose from statements on the labels for Twining’s green, black, and white tea products.

Specifically, Lanovaz took aim at the statements “Natural Source of Antioxidants” and “A natural source of protective antioxidants and blended using only 100% natural ingredients, Twinings Green Tea provides a great tasting and healthy tea experience” found on Twinings’ green tea labels, and the statement “Tea is a Natural Source of Antioxidant” found on Twinings’ black and white tea labels.

A food is “misbranded” under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act if the label is “false or misleading in any particular,” or if the label includes a nutrient content claim that does not comply with FDA requirements. 21 U.S.C. §§ 343 (a)(1). A “nutrient content claim” is a claim that “expressly or implicitly characterizes the level of a nutrient of the type required to be in nutrition labeling. 21 C.F.R. §101.13(b). Notably, nutrient content claims using the term “antioxidants” are subject to additional regulations. 21 C.F.R. § 101.54(g). California has adopted all food labeling regulations adopted pursuant to the Federal FDCA as the law of the state. Cal. Health & Safety Code §110100.

Lanovaz alleged under California’s UCL, FAL, and CLRA that she and other class members relied on Twinings’ nutrient content claims when deciding to purchase Twinings’ products, would not have purchased these products had they known the products did not satisfy the minimum threshold requirements for antioxidants, and alleged that class members paid a premium for these products.

After Lanovax filed the lawsuit in 2012, Twinings discontinued the use of the disputed labels on a rolling basis starting in 2013 and ending in April 2014. Twinings also removed references to antioxidants from its website in 2015. Twinings representatives stated that the company had no intention of using such statements in the future.

On September 2, 2016, the court granted Twinings’ motion for summary judgment, finding that Lanovaz could not establish Article III standing in the federal court. Article III standing for injunctive relief requires a showing of real or immediate threat that the plaintiff will be wronged again, or a “likelihood of substantial and immediate irreparable injury.”

Because Lanovaz provided no evidence that the Twinings would resume the use of the disputed label statements or that she intends to purchase Twinings tea in the future, the Court found that there was no likelihood of substantial and immediate irreparable injury. Lanovaz argued that she had standing to pursue injunctive relief under the UCL and FAL pursuant to a California Supreme Court holding that a plaintiff need only show lost money or property to establish standing under these statutes. However, the federal court maintained that statutory standing under these state laws do not address the federal constitutional requirement for standing under Article III to pursue injunctive relief.

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