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Ninth Circuit Throws out Washington Deceptive Labeling Claim Against VitaRain

May 19, 2016


More and more consumers are accusing food and beverage manufacturers of deceptive labeling ‎practices, especially for touting products as "all natural" or "organic" when they are not. To date, ‎most of the lawsuits have been filed in California. But recently the U.S. District Court for the ‎Eastern District of Washington had the opportunity to weigh in on the issue. Harold Maple ‎brought a class action lawsuit against Costco for labeling its VitaRain Tropical Mango Vitamin ‎Enhanced Water Beverage as natural. Mr. Maple claimed that because the beverage contained ‎artificial ingredients, the labeling was misleading to customers and, therefore, violated ‎Washington's Consumer Protection Act. The Eastern District Court dismissed his case and on ‎May 9, 2016, the Ninth Circuit agreed with that decision, bringing the lawsuit to a final end. In ‎reaching its decision to dismiss Mr. Maple's class action lawsuit with prejudice, the ‎Ninth Circuit ‎found that (1) as a matter of law, VitaRain's name is not "likely to mislead a ‎reasonable ‎consumer" and (2) Mr. Maple did not allege that he read the label beyond the product's ‎name. The Court explained that "the term ‘Vita' ‎could mean many things, rain could not be an ‎actual ingredient, and the label contains no ‎misleading statements." ‎ ‎ ‎

The Ninth Circuit's decision left for another day any guidance on precisely what type of ‎‎"natural" or "organic" ‎mislabeling might be found to be "likely to mislead a ‎reasonable ‎consumer." But it did provide a first glimpse into how Washington courts might treat such a ‎claim, particularly when, as here, the label at issue is not deceptive on its face.‎

The case is Harold Maple v. Costco Wholesale Corporation, case numbers 13-36089, 14-35038 ‎and 14-35059, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.‎


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